Viking Mississippi River Debut

Viking Mississippi River Debut for 2022

by Anne Kalosh.

It has been a long time coming but river-cruise giant Viking plans to begin plying the Mississippi in August 2022. The line is going big and modern with a 386-passenger, five-deck vessel it’s building in Louisiana. [The passenger count is above QuirkyCruise’s 300 cut-off,  but we make exceptions sometimes as we want to report on this!]

Named Viking Mississippi, the vessel is inspired by Viking’s existing river and ocean ships and will feature clean Scandinavian design along with public spaces that are familiar to brand loyalists but reimagined for the Mississippi.

And “no paddlewheels — real or fake,” Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen said.

Viking Mississippi River Debut

Viking Mississippi — five decks high and modern design with no paddlewheel. * Rendering: Viking

Viking itineraries cover Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Asia and Egypt. Yet Hagen said loyalists continue to list the Mississippi as “the river they most want to sail with us.” It is “closer to home for many of our guests,” he continued, “and no other waterway has played such an important role in America’s history, commerce and culture.”

Lower & Upper Mississippi

Viking Mississippi will sail the Lower and Upper Mississippi, between New Orleans and St. Paul, Minnesota. Ports currently scheduled span seven states: Louisiana (besides New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Darrow and St. Francisville), Mississippi (Natchez and Vicksburg), Tennessee (Memphis), Missouri (Hannibal, St. Louis), Iowa (Burlington, Dubuque and Davenport), Wisconsin (La Crosse and Red Wing) and Minnesota (St. Paul).

The core itineraries are eight days and include “America’s Heartland,” cruising between St. Louis and St. Paul. This Upper Mississippi voyage sails past farms nestled in rolling terrain and steep bluffs rising from tributaries dotted with wooded islands, and traverses locks and dams. Travelers will hear stories about westward migration, Lewis and Clark, Mark Twain, John Deere, and the Amish and Norwegian settlements. They’ll experience regional music like polka and Norwegian folk and taste local beer, produce and Wisconsin cheese.

Exploring the Lower Mississippi, “Heart of the Delta,” between New Orleans and Memphis, delves into areas where the French and Acadians settled, the Civil Rights movement and the music of the South — jazz, blues and gospel. Travelers will get to dine on Cajun and creole dishes and Memphis dry-style barbecue, rubbed with salt and spices.

“Southern Celebration,” cruising New Orleans-Vicksburg-New Orleans, also explores the Lower Mississippi, affording visits to historic homes in Louisiana and Mississippi. There will be opportunities to learn about Civil War history and tour sites like Vicksburg National Military Park. As well, travelers can discover the distinct flavors of New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The 15-day “America’s Great River” spans nearly the full length of the Mississippi, between New Orleans and St. Paul. Viking Mississippi will travel from the Gulf of Mexico to the northernmost reaches of the U.S. This journey will present a variety of scenery, foliage and wildlife. Travelers can tour plantation houses in Natchez, retrace the steps of Civil Rights leaders in Memphis, ascend the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and visit “The Norwegian Valley” in La Crosse.

Big Views & Alfresco Dining

Viking Mississippi will sport expansive windows and a 360-degree promenade close to the water on Deck 1. A two-story Explorers’ Lounge is situated high up and facing forward adjacent to The Bow, an outdoor seating area with big river views.

Viking Mississippi River Boat's Explorer Lounge

The Viking Mississippi’s Explorer’s Lounge on Deck 1. * Rendering: Viking

An Aquavit Terrace on the top deck, ideal for American-style barbecues, and an indoor-outdoor River Cafe will provide ample alfresco dining opportunities. Besides American classics, the River Cafe will serve Norwegian specialties, recalling the Mamsen’s deli venues on Viking’s ocean ships.

The Viking Mississippi River Cafe

The Viking Mississippi River Cafe. * Rendering: Viking

A glass-backed pool will be situated aft on the Sun Terrace.

The Living Room on Deck 1 is designed for socializing, relaxing and entertainment, with a quiet corner housing a library.

Viking on the Mississippi

The Viking Mississippi Living Room. * Rendering: Viking

The Restaurant, the main dining venue, is also situated on Deck 1, and will serve daily-changing menus of regional dishes and always-available classics prepared with fresh, local ingredients.

Viking Mississippi's main restaurant

The main restaurant aboard the Viking Mississippi. * Rendering: Viking

Verandas or French Balconies

With 193 all-outside staterooms, Viking Mississippi has seven accommodations categories ranging from 268 square feet to 1,024 square feet. All have a private veranda or French balcony, king-size bed with luxury linens, large flat-screen interactive TV, mini-bar, large glass-enclosed shower, heated bathroom floor and 24-hour room service.

Viking Mississippi's Deluxe Veranda cabin

The Viking Mississippi’s Deluxe Veranda Stateroom. * Rendering: Viking

The top-of-the-line Viking Suites have two rooms and a full-size veranda off the spacious sitting room. Travelers in Penthouse Junior Suites (400 square feet) and Terrace Suites (425 square feet) get early room access, expanded double-sink bathroom, mini-bar with alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, water and snacks replenished daily, welcome champagne and laundry, pressing and shoeshine services. Those in Explorer Suites (657 square feet to 1,024 square feet) additionally have a wraparound veranda and included Silver Spirits Beverage Package.

Viking Mississippi Penthouse Terrace Suite

The Viking Mississippi’s Penthouse Terrace Suite. * Rendering: Viking

Viking Mississippi's Forward Explorer's Suite aboard Viking Mississippi

Viking Mississippi’s Forward Explorer’s Suite Living Room on Deck 3. * Rendering: Viking

Enrichment and ‘Privileged Access’

Viking will extend its noted on-board enrichment program to the U.S. heartland. Destination performances are to showcase regional music, and guest lecturers will expand on art, architecture, history, culture and the natural world. “Privileged Access Local Life and Working World” experiences will open doors to places otherwise difficult to visit.

Travelers can take a guided kayaking trip in the Louisiana bayou, visit a working farm near the Quad Cities or immerse themselves in Cajun culture during a Privileged Access excursion to the Rural Life Museum of Louisiana State University.

RELATED: Viking to Offer “Privileged Access” Excursions to Egypt River Cruises. 

Inclusive Pricing

Cruise fares include one shore excursion in each port of call, alternative dining, all port charges and government taxes, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, self-service launderettes, 24-hour room service and Wi-Fi.

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Ritz-Carlton Yacht Evrima Delayed

Ritz-Carlton Yacht Evrima Delayed To 2021

By Anne Kalosh.

Due to delays at the Hijos de J. Barreras shipyard in Spain, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection‘s first vessel, Evrima, is set back to April 2021.

The inaugural had previously been delayed to June this year from its original early 2020 date.

New Shipyard Oversight

The shipyard has been undergoing widely publicized difficulties. These led to the majority of its shareholders agreeing to hand over control to a newly formed entity headed by Douglas Prothero, who is also CEO of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. This new structure is intended to ensure Evrima’s completion.

Evrima was launched down the slip at H.J. Barreras shipyard in October 2018. * Photo: The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

“We sincerely apologize to all guests who were ready to sail with us,” Prothero said. “We remain deeply committed to ensuring a seamless delivery of the standards of quality and service that The Ritz-Carlton is known for as well as providing a highly customized, state-of-the-art build that will make our inaugural yacht the most distinctive of its kind.”

Lisbon-Palma Inaugural Cruise

The inaugural sailing is now scheduled for April 22, 2021, from Lisbon, Portugal, to Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

The luxurious, 298-passenger Evrima had been one of 2020’s most anticipated new cruise ships.

RELATED: The New Quirky Sized Oceangoing Builds for 2020.  by Anne Kalosh.

Designed as a yacht inside and out, Evrima promises to be a beauty when completed, with its cascade of open decks aft, a marina and spacious suites and lounges. Dining experiences will include Southeast Asian small plates, an alfresco seafood bar/steak grill, a marina spot and a restaurant by three-star Michelin chef Sven Elverfeld of Aqua at The Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg.

Evrima is now set to debut in April 2021. * Rendering: The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection

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American Melody new for American Cruise Lines

What’s New At American Cruise Lines.

By Anne Kalosh.

U.S. river cruising is getting more and more interesting.

With European powerhouse Viking poised to enter the Mississippi market, there’s going to be a wider choice of brands. And with American Queen Steamboat Co. (AQSC) growing its paddle-wheel fleet and American Cruise Lines its modern-style vessels, travelers can pick classic or contemporary.

American Cruise Lines recently announced the acceleration of its new build program on strong demand for the modern-style boats and continues a “Cruise Close To Home” marketing campaign.

Viking Foray

This comes as AQSC introduces its fourth paddle-wheeler, American Countess, in late March and as Viking is ready to reveal its long-awaited plans for the U.S. (Check back here after April 7 for details.)

American’s reaction to Viking’s entrance?

“It’s good. It just brings more exposure to the market and increases the visibility of river cruising in the country,” said Charles B. Robertson, who succeeded his late father as CEO of American in February. “We’ve built our own market and will continue to define our own market. We’ve got a different market and there’s enough business for both of us.”

AQSC, he added, “has a different product also and is attracting a different segment.”

American Cruise Lines CEO

American Cruise Lines new CEO Charles B. Robertson. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

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Small Ships, Big Appeal

The fact that multiple brands are thriving stateside shows “There’s such a big market out there … People are realizing river cruises are available and are fantastic in this country.”

One challenge when American started was just educating people that about cruising on America’s rivers. Now, with availability of modern boats like those in Europe, “There is more appeal. We’re really getting the message out,” Robertson said.

American Jazz begins sailing the Mississippi in the third quarter this year, bringing the fleet to 12, and the decision was recently made to add two new builds — up from one — in 2021. American Melody’s inaugural was moved forward to June from September next year, and construction just began on a sister vessel.

Though nothing has been announced, Robertson wouldn’t be surprised if two more new builds also follow in 2022.

A competitive strength for American Cruise Lines is the ability to build at affiliated company Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland. The facility has five hull fabrication buildings and more than 1,000 feet of deep-water bulkhead to build and outfit multiple ships at the same time.

Robertson said American continues tweaking things with each new build, making small improvements. Passenger capacity will stay under 200, though, an “important threshold” to enable the delivery of the small-ship experience the line’s known for.

(And this fits nicely into the QuirkyCruise focus on vessels carrying up to 300 passengers.)

American Song

American Song on the Columbia River. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Big Rooms, Lots of Glass

Robertson said accommodations on American’s modern-style boats are 70 percent larger than the average European river vessel, while suites may be double the size. Balconies have gotten larger, and have more furniture (table and chairs), with the bigger suites adding chaise lounges.

The real distinction, though, is the design aesthetic. There are large glass areas to let in light and provide better views — so vital for river cruising. The colors are more contemporary, the exercise room is larger and a yoga venue added. Besides the single-seating dining room, a top deck café serves casual fare like burgers, salads and pizza.

Pricing is inclusive. Mississippi, Columbia/Snake rivers and Alaska programs include an excursion at every port; more extra-cost tours are available in New England.

American Cruise Lines balcony view

Balcony view. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

No More Paddle-Wheelers for Now

American doesn’t currently plan to build more paddle-wheelers, having switched focus to the modern-style boats with American Song in 2018, continuing with American Harmony in 2019.

“We love the paddle-wheelers we have and will continue to operate them, and there’s a fabulous market for them,” Robertson said. “But the modern riverboat style is where we see a concentration of demand and market appeal.”

This type of vessel better appeals to the younger end of American’s market, where future growth lies. But Robertson was quick to state it’s “critical we don’t alienate the older end of the market, and we’ve seen they’re comfortable with either style: traditional or modern. We were concerned our loyal passenger base might not like the modern style as much and are thrilled that’s not the case.”

American Melody new for American Cruise Lines

American Melody — One of two modern-style riverboats coming in 2021. * Rendering: American Cruise Lines

Two by Two

Next year American will field two modern-style boats and two paddle-wheelers both on the Mississippi and in the Pacific Northwest.

American Harmony will shift from the Mississippi to the Columbia/Snake, joining American Song and a pair of paddle-wheelers. American Melody will replace American Harmony on the Mississippi, joining American Jazz and two paddle-wheelers.

Cruise Close to Home

Many lines have stopped advertising due to uncertainties surrounding coronavirus. American continues its “Cruise Close To Home” marketing begun in November.

Ninety percent of the U.S. mainland population can drive to an American cruise within a “reasonable amount of time,” according to Robertson. That cuts out the need to get on a plane.

ACL’s “Cruise Close To Home” marketing campaign.


“We are definitely affected by [coronavirus], but it’s having less impact than on the rest of the industry,” he said. “We’re insulated a bit by virtue of the smaller ships and entirely domestic itineraries. We’re dealing with it like the rest of the industry and, yes, we take it absolutely seriously.”

American adheres to Cruise Lines International Association policy and procedures to avoid transmission of the virus.

Some travelers whose overseas cruises were canceled have come to American as an alternative. “That’s not something we’re promoting,” Robertson said. “We’re not looking to be opportunistic.”QuirkyCruise Review



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Emerald Azzurra off Italy's Amalfi coast

Introducing Emerald Azzurra

By Anne Kalosh

Scenic, the luxury tour operator that made a big splash with the super-yacht Scenic Eclipse in 2019, is at it again. This time the company plans a yacht for its newly formed Emerald Yacht Cruises.

The 100-passenger Emerald Azzurra is to debut in July 2021.

The brand will be part of the Emerald Cruises portfolio, which includes the Emerald Waterways river fleet.

Emerald Azzurra rendeirng

A bird’s-eye view of Emerald Azzurra. * Rendering: Emerald Yacht Cruises

“Emerald Waterways has been operating award-winning river cruises in Europe since 2014,” said Glen Moroney, owner and chairman of the Scenic Group. “The launch of Emerald Yacht Cruises and the stunning new Emerald Azzurra are a logical extension of the Emerald Cruises portfolio, adding intimate yacht cruising in the Mediterranean to the existing Emerald Waterways river cruise offerings.”

RELATED: QC Contributor Reviews the New Scenic Eclipse … by Peter Knego

RELATED: Active European River Cruises with Emerald Waterways … by John Roberts

Adriatic, Med and Red Sea

While Emerald Azzurra will be certified for unrestricted passenger ship operations in all oceans except polar, the 360-foot/110-meter super-yacht was custom-designed to cruise the Adriatic coast, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Emerald Azzurra will frequent destinations in Greece, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, France, Turkey, Cyprus, Malta, Spain, Israel, Jordan and Egypt. As well as exploring the major highlights in these regions, the yacht will be able to access smaller ports and harbors, giving travelers the chance to discover smaller towns and villages.

Most cruises stretch eight days.

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Emerald Azzurra off Italy's Amalfi coast

Emerald Azzurra is depicted off Italy’s Amalfi Coast. * Rendering: Emerald Yacht Cruises

Sample Itineraries

The scheduled inaugural sailing is an eight-day Aegean itinerary featuring Cyprus, Turkey and Greece. Emerald Azzurra will depart from Limassol, Cyprus, for Paphos (also in Cyprus); Fethiye, Bodrum and Kusadasi in Turkey; and Mykonos and Santorini, before arriving at Piraeus (Athens), Greece. Fares start at $3,385.

Another eight-day itinerary highlights the French and Italian rivieras, plus Corsica. This cruise departs from Civitavecchia (Rome) and visits Porto Ercole, Portoferraio and Portofino in Italy; Bonifacio and Calvi, Corsica; and Menton and Nice, France. Fares start at $3,338.

A 12-day “Ancient World Wonders” voyage embarks in Limassol and calls at Haifa (Tel Aviv) and Ashdod (Jerusalem) in Israel; Alexandria, Port Said and Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt; and Aqaba, Jordan. $5,188 is the lead-in price.

What’s Included

Emerald features inclusive pricing, so sommelier-paired wine, beer and soft drinks are complimentary with lunch and dinner. Also included: all on-board gratuities, Wi-Fi, transfers to and from the airport, port charges and all taxes. Included ashore are EmeraldPLUS cultural experiences and a range of EmeraldACTIVE excursions. DiscoverMORE excursions cost extra.

The six-deck Emerald Azzurra has 50 cabins and suites designed with a modern feel and upscale amenities. Eighty-eight percent of the accommodations have balconies.

Six ocean-view rooms measure 182 square feet to 204 square feet. There are 22 standard balcony staterooms that range from 285 square feet to 306 square feet. The two deluxe balcony staterooms range from 382 square feet to 403 square feet.

Emerald Azzurra's standard balcony cabin

Emerald Azzurra’s standard balcony stateroom. * Rendering: Emerald Yacht Cruises

The pair of terrace suites are 648 square feet to 669 square feet, while the two yacht suites measure 700 square feet to 721 square feet.

And the two top-of-the line owners suites, with their separate bedroom and large lounge area and a spacious terrace, are 1,162 square feet to 1,192 square feet.

big cabin terrace on Emerald Azzurra

The roomy terrace of a yacht suite. * Rendering: Emerald Yacht Cruises

In super-yacht style, Emerald Azzurra sports a marina platform as the launch point for water sports like paddle boarding and snorkeling. There are three tenders and two Zodiacs for shore landings.

High atop the yacht on the Sky Deck are outdoor lounging space, a bar and a spa pool. One deck below, the Pool Deck has a fabulous-looking infinity pool, a shaded lounge area and a pool café.

infinity pool on Emerald Azzurra

Emerald Azzurra’s very cool infinity pool. * Rendering: Emerald Yacht Cruises

Emerald Azzurra pool deck area

A shady corner for lounging in the pool area. * Rendering: Emerald Yacht Cruises

top deck Sky bar on Emerald Azzurra

Enjoy drinks up top in the Sky Deck Bar. * Rendering: Emerald Yacht Cruises

Deck 5 holds the forward-facing Observation Lounge.

On Deck 3, the Horizon Bar and Lounge form the heart of the yacht, with Reflections Restaurant on the same level and The Terrace, an outside dining area, aft of that. Dining will feature fresh, local ingredients.

Emerald Azzurra's restaurant

The Reflections Restaurant. * Rendering: Emerald Yacht Cruises

Emerald Yacht Cruises lounge

The Horizon Bar and Lounge is at the heart of the yacht. * Rendering: Emerald Yacht Cruises

Deck 2, the Wellness Deck, offers a wellness center complete with gym, spa and salon.

The first steel was cut for Emerald Azzurra in December at Ha Long Shipbuilding Co. in Ha Long City, Vietnam, so construction has begun!

For more information: Emerald Yacht Cruises.

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Atlas Ocean Voyages ship World Navigator

Atlas Ocean Voyages 

By Anne Kalosh.

A new brand has burst onto the small-ship cruising scene. Atlas Ocean Voyages is set to field five 200-passenger expedition-style vessels. All are polar-class new builds, but Atlas eschews the expedition label in favor of “luxe adventure.” 

What is Luxe Adventure?

Atlas Ocean Voyages will sail the world, offering adventurous cruises for active people at a premium price point.

Since the line will go beyond traditional expedition climes such as Antarctica and the Arctic, it’s emphasizing adventure over expeditions.

“We are an adventurous, small-ship cruise company with expedition-style vessels,” said Alberto Aliberti, president of Atlas Ocean Voyages, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “We want to seek adventure wherever we are. We’ll have expedition itineraries, our ship will be expedition capable and ice capable, and we’ll have a full fleet of Zodiacs … But, when we’re in Marseille, we won’t be on an expedition cruise.”

Atlas Ocean Voyages president Alberto Aliberti

Atlas Ocean Voyages President Alberto Aliberti. * Photo: Atlas Ocean Voyages

Atlas Ocean Voyages logo

Atlas Ocean Voyages logo

Aliberti went on to define luxe adventure as “all-inclusive, small-ship journeys with luxurious amenities, delivering limitless adventures.” He promised “unexpected discoveries, foodie immersion and unique adrenaline rushes.”

Cruises will average 10 to 11 nights, with some weeklong itineraries and some longer voyages. Fares bundle in gratuities, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages including bottled water, standard Wi-Fi and shore excursions in select ports.

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Eastern Med, Black Sea, Holy Land

The first ship, World Navigator, is to begin sailing in mid-2021. It will debut in the Mediterranean, spending summer there with a heavy eastern Med focus. Travelers can explore Greece and Italy or the Black Sea, with destinations in Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine. 

Atlas Ocean Voyages ship World Navigator

The 200-passenger World Navigator. * Rendering: Atlas Ocean Voyages

For example, a seven-night cruise from Piraeus, the port for Athens, transits the narrow Corinth Canal and stops at a port a day in Greece and Italy before arriving at Civitavecchia, the port of Rome. Fares start at $4,999 per person.

One of the Black Sea sailings embarks in Odessa, Ukraine, and circles around to ports in Russia, Georgia and Turkey before ending with an overnight call at Istanbul. Fares start at $5,999 per person.

A 15-night adventure treks from Istanbul to the Holy Land, calling at numerous ports in Turkey and stopping in Greece and Cyprus before arriving in Israel, where overnight calls in Ashdod (gateway to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem) and Haifa cap the experience. The price for this voyage starts at $9,999 per person.

Two itineraries focus on Israel and Egypt. 

Then, in early October, World Navigator will reposition across the Atlantic, from Lisbon, Portugal, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. From there, the ship will sail to Montevideo, Uruguay, then continue further south to the tip of the continent and Ushuaia, Argentina, its base for a season in Antarctica.

Adventure Focus

Research helped the company hone in on people who enjoy an active lifestyle and typically are members of clubs focused on activities like horseback riding, golf, tennis or swimming. Indeed, depicts people in action. 

Adventures could include camping out in the rain forest, snorkeling in an underground cenote (a limestone sinkhole), whitewater rafting, desert hiking, hot-air ballooning, spending a night in a kibbutz and taking advantage of the ship’s fleet of bicycles.

A robust pre- and post-cruise land program will give opportunities for “two adventures in one vacation,” Aliberti said, some of them providing contrasting experiences such as skiing in Switzerland before a Mediterranean cruise. An optional two-day overland tour visits the infamous and otherworldly Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Atlas plans a health and wellness program on board that may include a culinary aspect. There’s no kids’ program, but multigenerational families are welcomed.

Upmarket Ships

“We’ll be upmarket. We don’t like the word ‘luxury.’ It’s overused. We’ll play off that juxtaposition of adventure and luxury,” said Brandon Townsley, vice president, sales and trade partnerships.

Yet the ambiance will be casual, along with the dress code. Public rooms will “foster a sense of community and ease of interaction,” according to Aliberti. “We want people to be comfortable,” whether they’re extremely active types or laid back.

Each 126-meter/413 foot-ship measures just under 10,000 gross tons and has 98 suites and staterooms, all with an ocean view and most with veranda. 

Public rooms include an Observation Lounge with an unusual feature. It’s topped by a glass dome so travelers can look up to the stars or the northern lights. Beneath that there’s a lighted glass well affording views down into the sea.  

Observation lounge of new Atlas ship

The Observation Lounge is topped by a glass dome so travelers can see the night sky. .* Rendering: Atlas Ocean Voyages

SeaSpa by L’Occitane will be the Provence brand’s first spa on the water. A gym, pool, restaurant, bars, theater and library round out the amenities. Another unusual feature is heated outdoor seating for comfort when viewing wildlife in cold climes. 

The seven accommodations categories range from the 183-square-foot Adventure Staterooms to the one-bedroom, 466-square-foot Navigator Suite. All have a stocked refrigerator, L’Occitane bath amenities, hair dryer, plush robes and slippers, digital safe and still or sparking water replenished twice daily.

Atlas Ocean Voyages' Adventure Staterooms

The entry-level category is an Adventure Stateroom with windows, but no balcony. * Rendering: Atlas Ocean Voyages

Nearly 90% of the accommodations have verandas, including the 269-square-foot Horizon Stateroom, which features a floor-to-ceiling glass wall with an upper panel that slides open to the air. The Veranda Staterooms also measure 269 square feet.

Horizon cabin on Atlas's World Navigator

World Navigator’s Horizon Staterooms with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that open. * Rendering: Atlas Ocean Voyages

The entry-level Adventure Staterooms come with a large picture-frame window.

All accommodations have a queen-size bed that converts into two twins facing an oversized, interactive flat-panel screen with live and on-demand television, movies, music and audio programming, as well as Bluetooth connectivity for smartphones and tablets. Each room includes a desk, while the Horizon and Veranda categories offer a sitting area with a loveseat and coffee table.

Five USB ports and five 110V and 220V outlets are placed strategically throughout.

World Navigator also has 10 one-bedroom suites. The Journey Suite measures 382 square feet; the Discovery Suite, 445 square feet; and the Navigator Suite, 466 square feet. All have a double-wide, 106-square-foot veranda with sun loungers, teak chairs and table. Each suite includes two closets and both the living room and bedroom have an oversized, interactive flat-panel television.

A 466-square-foot, one-bedroom Navigator Suite on World Explorer * Rendering: Atlas Ocean Voyages

Two Junior Suite configurations include one with exterior veranda and another with the floor-to-ceiling Horizon window that opens.

All bathrooms feature spa showers with adjustable body-jets. The Navigator Suite and Discovery Suite come with double sinks and a separate water closet, while the Navigator Suite has a bathtub.

Portuguese Parent

World Navigator is being built at WestSea Viana do Castelo in Portugal. It is the third in a series of what is planned to be 10 vessels for Mystic Cruises, a Portuguese company led by entrepreneur Mário Ferreira. He developed river cruising on the Douro before branching out into ocean cruising.

RELATED: Oceangoing Small Ships to Debut in 2020

The first of those ocean ships, World Explorer, was introduced in 2019. It is sailing for Germany’s Nicko Cruises (owned by Ferreira) and on charter to polar specialist Quark Expeditions for Antarctica seasons. World Voyager is to follow this year. 

Atlas Ocean Voyages new ships

The Atlas Ocean Voyages ships are modeled on 2019’s World Explorer. * Photo: Atlas Ocean Voyages

But back to Atlas: Ferreira decided to devote some of his new ships to U.S. and Canadian travelers, so he created this new brand for them. After World Navigator in 2021, World Traveller and World Seeker are scheduled to arrive in 2022, followed by World Adventurer and World Discoverer in 2023.

“These are exciting times for us,” Ferreira said. “With the launch of the World Explorer in 2019 we took a firm step to establish ourselves as a key player in the expedition cruise market, bringing to it our 25-year expertise in small ship luxury and intimate on board services, complemented with authentic shore excursions.”

Reduced Environmental Footprint

Ferreira added: “A significant part of the investment we’re making goes to equip our ships with the latest eco-friendly technologies available in the market, including pioneering new solutions to reduce the environmental impacts.”

The vessels have Rolls-Royce engines, the ability to connect to shore power when in port and an electric jet propulsion system to avoid damage to polar ecosystems when stationary.

So although Atlas is a new brand with a penchant for adventure, it’s anchored — so to speak — in a well-established company.

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Helicopters aboard Scenic Eclipse

New Scenic Eclipse

By Peter Knego.

During a blast of social media posts covering the debut of Scenic Cruises’ six-star luxury expedition ship Scenic Eclipse, what stood out in my feed were the comments from friends who are generally indifferent to cruising and cruise ships. My childhood buddy Radames chimed: “Okay, now THAT’s a cruise ship I can get behind — sideways skyscrapers do nothing for me!” Meanwhile, several others gushed about the “James Bond” edginess of the ship’s appearance. “Gorgeous!” “Beautiful!” “Sleek!” These were common descriptions on social media platforms frequented by cruise aficionados.

Click below 👇🏼 for a quick clip of the Scenic Eclipse at her Manhattan berth on September 10, 2019, the day of her christening.

Since 2008, Scenic Cruises has been one of the highest rated, all-inclusive luxury river cruise lines in the world, making the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse a hotly anticipated new comer into the high seas cruise market. Dubbed a Discovery Yacht, this ship is not only the Australian-based line’s first foray into ocean cruises but the first in a new generation of top tier expedition ships equipped with impressive features like helicopters (two) and a submarine in addition to the usual armada of kayaks, zodiacs and e-bikes.

Octopus ship

The mega yacht Octopus, which has two helicopters and submarine, was the inspiration for Scenic Eclipse’s edgy profile. * Photo: Peter Knego

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During her New York christening on September 10, 2019, Scenic CEO Glen Moroney attributed her striking, wedge-like silhouette to that of a mega yacht (the late Paul Allen’s Octopus) he admired from his office window overlooking Sydney harbor.

Scenic Eclipse christening

Basking in the christening afterglow, from left to right:  Godmother Dame Helen Mirren, Glen Moroney (Founder and Chairman of Scenic Cruises), Karen Moroney (Project Director, Design for Scenic Group), Captain James Griffiths. * Photo: Peter Knego

With polar cruising in mind, the ship has a PC6 ice class rating, the highest possible for a passenger ship, which will allow her to not only cruise Antarctica but also navigate the Northwest Passage.

The Eclipse’s interiors, which are just as dynamic and photogenic as her exterior, are the vision of Moroney’s wife, Karen. Inside and out, they have achieved an object of cutting-edge beauty that comes with a few caveats.

Scenic Eclipse's Lobby Lounge

The Lobby Lounge, where comfort and chic converge, facing aft from port. * Photo: Peter Knego

Once aboard, I was struck with how the interiors resembled Scenic’s river cruise ships, albeit on a much grander scale. Stark black, gray, beige, and wood tones along with white Carrara marble surfaces provide a sophisticated setting for luxurious furnishings, vivid floral arrangements and bold artworks.

This ship is pure eye candy for those who tire of the Vegas glitz or, perhaps even worse, the generic stylings and bland, chunky architecture of many of today’s mass market cruise ships.

Including Deck 3, where there is a mud room for guests to don excursion gear, the Eclipse has eight guest decks with most of the four overall grades of suite accommodations concentrated at the forward end of the ship. Two stair towers and a pair of lifts provide vertical access and wide central passageways traverse each level, providing a seamless guest flow.

Owner's Suite on Scenic Eclipse

The Owner’s Suite 902 living room, facing port/forward. * Photo: Peter Knego

RELATED: QuirkyCruise News: A Look Inside the Lavish New Scenic Eclipse

During the christening ceremony, the ship’s Godmother, Dame Helen Mirren, compared the most opulent digs, a pair of lavish 2,099-square-foot Owner’s Suites on Deck 9 to “New York apartments.”

And for a short while, with their Hudson River view that day, they actually were. These palatial abodes feature a massive, forward-facing teak-lined terrace boasting fixed alcoves of seating and a large whirlpool tub.

The living room has a panorama of floor-to-ceiling windows, a dining nook and a massive flat screen television (somewhat precariously mounted atop a chrome pedestal). Owner’s Suites also have a separate bedroom, a walk-in closet and a bathroom with a tub that overlooks the sea.

Verandah Suite on New scenic eclipse

Standard Verandah Suite, facing starboard. * Photo: Peter Knego

Even the less princely Verandah Suites boast teak balconies, a sitting area, king-sized Scenic Slumber beds (that can change position with the touch of a button), a wall-sized mirror that contains a flat screen television and familiar Scenic trappings. We’re talking Bose speakers, a complimentary mini-bar and convenient touches like an umbrella, slippers, plush robes, (illy) espresso machines, QuietVox headphones for shore excursions and, of course, butler service.

The Theater aboard Scenic Eclipse

Theater, facing forward. * Photo: Peter Knego

There is an entire deck of public rooms located near the bottom of the ship on Deck 4, beginning with the in-the-round Theater (featuring reclining chairs with drink holders). On the starboard side, a boutique leads aft to the Lobby Lounge with its sea-level span of full-length windows, a magnificent backlit quartz crystal bar with 110 selections of fine whiskeys and other top shelf liquors and a Carra marble-fronted reception desk.

The entry vestibule follows, leading to the open kitchen Koko’s Asian fusion restaurant on the starboard side and the Continental/Italian Elements restaurant on the port side.

The ship's library

One of the ship’s best kept secrets, the handsome Observation Lounge is located at the forward end of Deck 5.  It boasts a self-serve espresso and tea station and a library of interesting books. * Photo: Peter Knego

More public spaces can be found on forward Deck 5 (Observation Lounge), aft Deck 5 (Lumiere French specialty restaurant and Azure Bar/Cafe), aft Deck 6 (Spa, available at no charge to guests although treatments are for a fee) and aft Deck 7 (Gym, Yoga Studio, and the Yacht Club buffet terrace and pool area).

Unfortunately, the outer deck areas are a bit compromised by the Eclipse’s edgy aesthetics and expensive toys.

Thanks to a very large helipad on aft Deck 8 and the visually appealing but space-consuming vertical curvature of the forward bulwarks, there is a lack of ample open deck space.

While cruising through some of the most scenic waters in the world, guests will have to content themselves with open-air views from their private verandahs, racing all the way to a narrow stern terrace, up to Deck 10 or, even more remotely, out to the open bow on Deck 5.

Dining and swimming on Scenic Eclipse

Where dining and swimming converge. The Yacht Club, shown in a forward-facing view. * Photo: Peter Knego

Another functional design quirk is that the only proper pool is in an enclosed area at the aft end of the Yacht Club. Sharing space with the buffet dining area, it creates a humid environment for diners and during meal times, it becomes a noisy, crowded venue for those seeking a quiet poolside respite.

Further, while the terrace on Deck 10 is a beautiful setting with its commanding views, teak decking, open sunning space and a pair of whirlpools, it lacks a proper windscreen, negating its use when the ship is at sea.

Late that afternoon, I embarked as a guest for a four-night cruise to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. After settling into my Verandah Suite, there was time for a quick cappuccino and a fabulously crunchy cookie in the Azure Café before boat drill.

Two hot tubs on board

Manhattan departure from Deck 10, which has a pair of Jacuzzis and banks of cushioned seating. * Photo: Scenic Eclipse

Scenic Eclipse must have looked magnificent as she pivoted out of the NYPST (New York Passenger Ship Terminal) and pointed her long, sleek bow towards the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.  We toasted with a glass of champagne up on Deck 10, as Manhattan basked in a golden afternoon light and numerous small craft and a very persistent helicopter encircled us.

sushi bar

Watching the chefs work their magic is one of the highlights of dining at Koko’s sushi bar. * Photo: Peter Knego

That evening, I joined a fellow cruise writer for dinner in Koko’s. While my companion enjoyed the sushi offerings, I particularly delighted in the tofu fritters and the ice-cold Kirin Ichiban beer.

art on the Scenic Eclipse

One of the eye-catching Hush panels in Koko’s. * Photo: Peter Knego

In addition to excellent food, Koko’s features artwork by London-based Hush that combines graffiti style graphics with traditional Japanese geisha imagery.

Digital daily program

A digital version of the daily program is available round the clock on Scenic Eclipse’s stateroom televisions. * Photo: Peter Knego

When I retired to my cabin, my bed was turned down but there was no program for the next day. I returned to the Lounge to ask for one and was told that in order to conserve paper, programs were not being printed unless requested. Not wanting to navigate the complex television system or download yet another app (that might or might not function with shifty shipboard satellite connections), I requested that one be placed in my cabin each night.

I appreciated Scenic’s conservational motives here but in the overall scheme of things, one daily program per cabin is a drop in the bucket compared to all the other paper use on board.

digital door info

A “do not disturb” setting outside stateroom doors can be activated with a convenient switch. * Photo: Peter Knego

Once back in the stateroom, I ticked off various boxes on the breakfast room service menu, placed it in the slot outside my cabin, turned on the red “do not disturb” sign (a familiar feature that has morphed over from Scenic’s river ships) and called it a night.

Scenic Eclipse's teak bow

Guests have access to the long, teak-lined bow on board the Scenic Eclipse. * Photo: Peter Knego

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The next morning, I awoke to my smiling butler baring a room service tray with cold cuts, a deliciously flaky croissant and a piping hot cappuccino. It was just the fuel I needed to venture out and explore the bridge (Scenic has an open bridge policy, conditions permitting) and stand out on the bow as it cut through the mild Atlantic chop.

Yacht Club buffet spread

The excellent buffet style offerings in the Yacht Club come with a side of humidity (haha) from the enclosed pool at the aft end of the room. * Photo: Peter Knego

The lunch buffet in the Yacht Club had some beautifully prepared, delicious selections but the humidity generated by the adjacent enclosed pool was daunting.  As the Eclipse pulled into the Martha’s Vineyard anchorage — in lieu of reef-damaging anchors, the ship uses a satellite-controlled pod system to stay in place — I capped off lunch with another perfect cappuccino in Azure.

Helicopters aboard Scenic Eclipse

Helicopter maneuvers on board Scenic Eclipse. The issue of the ship’s lack of ample open deck space could be easily remedied if the Deck 8 helipad could be opened up for guests when the helicopters (which are stowed in adjacent hangars) aren’t being used. * Photo: Scenic Eclipse

After heading up to Deck 10 to witness a shipboard helicopter take off for the first time, I was soon tendering ashore to join an afternoon tour of Martha’s Vineyard.

Martha's Vineyard

On tour with Scenic in Martha’s Vineyard. * Photo: Peter Knego

Scenic provides included Freechoice tours in each port in addition to reasonably-priced Discovery tours. Our Tastes of Martha’s Vineyard excursion took us via school bus through six quaint towns and past numerous farms and Victorian estates before stopping at the Aquinnah Cliffs for a spectacular view of the lighthouse.

Scenic Eclipse in New England

The Scenic Eclipse is shown here off Martha’s Vineyard with her helipad “wings” folded up into the aft superstructure. * Photo: Peter Knego

When we returned to the ship, she looked especially fetching with her helipad “wings” retracted.

That evening, as the Eclipse navigated the Cape Cod Canal towards Boston, we dined in Elements, which compared to the delicious offerings and attentive service in KoKo’s was somewhat of a let down.

drinks aboard Scenic Eclipse

A dash of this and a drop of that, please… * Photo: Peter Knego

Later, at the whiskey bar, I sampled some very exclusive bourbon choices. Hard liquor is not usually my thing but with friends’ and the bartender’s guidance, I chalked it up to a rather “spirited” learning experience.

chicken curry

Going “cuckoo” for Koko’s authentic Indian chicken curry. * Photo: Peter Knego

Intermittent rain greeted us in Boston on the next morning’s Freedom Trail walking excursion, a reasonably-priced Scenic Discovery tour. I made it back to the ship just in time for a fabulous chicken curry lunch in Koko’s.

Wandering and pondering the Eclipse that afternoon raised some concerns about all the sharp corner edges (passageway railings, counters, furnishings) on a ship that will be navigating some very rough seas.

Later, while resting in my stateroom, I also noted that the shelving was lacking lips and stays to prevent articles from sliding off. Hopefully by the time the ship is navigating the Drake Passage for her upcoming Antarctica season, some of these issues will have been addressed.

Lumiere restaurant aboard Scenic Eclipse

A spoon sculpture by Francois Bertrand greets guests at the entrance to Lumiere. * Photo: Peter Knego

When the skies cleared, I joined my writing colleague for a run around the harbor area. We met up again for dinner in Lumiere, the included but reservations-required fixed menu French eatery.  With my non-red meat, somewhat vegetarian diet, I figured I could just enjoy the ambiance as my friend consumed her photogenic courses, then head off to Koko’s or, in a pinch, get room service.

Well, once again, in the food and service department, Scenic exceeded expectations. Our waiter presented vegetarian alternatives to the fixed courses that were not only cruelty free but just as delicious and beautifully rendered.

From the first glass of Champagne to the very last scrape of the cheese platter, the entire dinner was culinary magic.

That evening, I saw no harm in our returning to the whiskey bar to sample more of those interesting malts. Of course, the following morning, when room service arrived, I found myself blearily questioning that choice.

dining on Scenic Eclipse

Bento Box tempura in KoKo’s. * Photo: Peter Knego

a cafe on board

Azure, where cappuccinos and Carrara marble connect. * Photo: Scenic Eclipse

I spent most of the sea day confined to my cabin, catching up on a writing assignment while taking advantage of Scenic’s strong, included Wi-Fi.  When I did venture out, it was to enjoy a Bento Box tempura lunch in KoKo’s, more cappuccinos (with less milk and extra foam) in Azure and a stress-reducing workout in the gym. Since KoKo’s teppanyaki room was fully booked, my final dinner on board would be yet another extravaganza of friendly, excellent service and artful sushi bar craftsmanship.

At Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on the final morning, we were provided with the exhilarating opportunity to test out one of the Eclipse’s helicopters.

Click below 👇🏼 to board one of Scenic Eclipse’s Airbus helicopters.

After signing a few liability forms we donned safety vests and were escorted to Deck 8 to board the chopper, a feat that prior to the Scenic Eclipse has been privy only to the occasional yacht-owning oligarch. Seating is assigned according to weight — no exceptions — but with its comfy seats surrounded in a bubble of glass, spectacular views were enjoyed by all.

Nova Scotia from above

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, from aloft. * Photo: Peter Knego

The pilot, an experienced military flyer, joked that this particular group was more interested in getting footage of the Eclipse than the gorgeous town and topography of Lunenburg. Commanding an average of $500 per guest, each 20-minute flight is a pricey but unique (for now) experience that will soon be offered on several newbuilding expedition ships.

The Eclipse’s other “toy,” the five-guest Scenic Neptune submarine, was also going to be deployed that day but it was sold out far in advance (at fares in the $250 range).

Scenic Eclipse from above

Parting glances — an aerial view of the mother ship off Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. * Photo: Peter Knego

Upon our return to the Eclipse, we had but moments to bid goodbye and hop the tender ashore for the ride to Halifax and our eventual flights home.

Afterthought: My four-night September sampling was probably a bit too early in the game and too brief to render a complete appraisal but hopefully this beautiful ship’s somewhat quirky design issues will be remedied or at least taken into account with her proposed sister ships.

As far as food and service go, even at this early stage in the ship’s career, Scenic hit it out of the park.

From the flawless room service where menu “write-ins” were graciously allowed, to the perfect cappuccinos, cookies and pastries in Azure and the excellent quality of the offerings in the humidity-challenged Yacht Club, even the most casual culinary experiences were top notch. Although Elements had some teething pains, Koko’s and Lumiere were proof that Scenic Eclipse’s highly touted six stars aren’t just skin deep.

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Executives toast New Ships For Paul Gauguin

Two New Ships For Paul Gauguin Cruises

By Anne Kalosh.

Paul Gauguin Cruises will be adding a pair of new builds with a cutting-edge design. They’ll join the Paul Gauguin ship to sail the South Pacific year-round, starting in 2022.

French cruise line Ponant, which recently acquired the Paul Gauguin brand with the intention of growing it and keeping it as a distinct operation, inked a memorandum of understanding for the two new builds with Fincantieri’s Vard group. It’s possible there will be an option for a third vessel.

Executives toast New Ships For Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin Cruises CEO Diane Moore with Navin Sawhney, Americas CEO for Ponant. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

The new ships for Paul Gauguin will be an evolution of the Explorers series built for Ponant in recent years. They’ll measure 11,000 gross tons with capacity for 230 passengers each.

That makes them smaller than the 332-passenger, 19,170-gross-ton Paul Gauguin.

New Ships For Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, seen here in Bora Bora, will be joined by two new, and smaller, ships modeled on Ponant’s Explorers series. * Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

Smoke-free at Anchor & In Ports

The new builds will be equipped with environmental technology including what Fincantieri called the “most extensive battery package application in the market.”

These large battery packs will produce electricity for the ships’ hotel needs. This will allow smokeless operation at anchor, in ports and in environmentally sensitive areas.

Ponant Co-Founder and CEO Jean-Emmanuel Sauvée said the vessels will cut their engines during stops for nearly 10 hours per day of no exhaust — a first in cruising.

executives toast the two new Paul Gauguin builds

Toasting the new builds — Ponant Co-founder Jean-Emmanuel Sauvée, far right, with Paul Gauguin Cruises CEO Diane Moore and Ponant Americas CEO Navin Sawhney. At far left is Kelly Craighead, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Ponant’s Strong Fincantieri Ties

Fincantieri has built four Ponant ships — Le Boréal (2010), L’Austral (2011), Le Soléal (2013) and Le Lyrial (2015) — at its Ancona yard. In 2018 and 2019, Norwegian subsidiary Vard turned out four Explorers vessels — Le Lapérouse, Le Champlain, Le Bougainville and Le Dumont D’Urville — and is scheduled to deliver the last two in the series, Le Bellot and Le Jacques-Cartier, during 2020.

Vard is also building Le Commandant Charcot for Ponant. This world-first hybrid electric polar expedition ship, fueled by liquefied natural gas, is due in 2021.

Finalization of the contract for the new ships for Paul Gauguin is subject to the customary technical and financial conditions.

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New Small Ships include the Greg Mortimer

New Small Ships Delivered and Ordered

By Anne Kalosh.

Recent deliveries and new build orders — Greg Mortimer for Aurora Expeditions, Emerald Harmony for Emerald Waterways and Aranui 6 for Aranui Cruises — illustrate the diversified travel options for small-ship aficionados.

Greg Mortimer, with its distinctive inverted X-Bow, became the first of what could stretch to a 10-strong series of expedition vessels built in China. The specially designed Emerald Harmony, which just began service on the Mekong River, can sail all the way into the heart of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, setting it apart from deeper-draft vessels that need to dock at remote landing sites. And Aranui Cruises is building a new vessel, Aranui 6, to sail the South Pacific.

Greg Mortimer

Miami-based SunStone Ships is behind a series of Infinity-class new builds that marry European design and quality with Chinese shipbuilding efficiency. The first out, Greg Mortimer, has been chartered by Australia’s Aurora Expeditions.

New Small Ships include the Greg Mortimer

Greg Mortimer sports the distinctive X-Bow profile. * Photo: SunStone Ships

“We are very pleased with the quality and high building standards of China Merchants Heavy Industry, which are fully at the level of European shipyards,” SunStone President and CEO Niels-Erik Lund said. “A quality this high will not go unnoticed in the cruise industry. We look forward to continuing our relationships with all our partners in the Infinity-class project, and we are moving fast forward as planned at very satisfactory speed, safety and quality level.”

Infinity-class vessels measure 8,000 gross tons and 341 feet/104 meters in length. Each has capacity for 130 to 200 passengers and 85 to 115 crew, depending on the charterer’s requirements.

Design and Technical Prowess

The vessels are built to Ice Class 1A/Polar Code 6 standard and have features like dynamic positioning, enabling them to remain stationary at sea without dropping anchor in sensitive areas, and zero-speed stabilizers, which keep them steady even when not underway. Their patented X-Bow by Norway’s Ulstein Design & Solutions facilitates better seakeeping and energy efficiency.

The ships are small enough to give an exclusive atmosphere yet large enough to provide facilities such as a swimming pool, bar and restaurants, lounges, library, lecture theater, gym, spa and boutique.

Greg Mortimer's lecture theater

Greg Mortimer’s lecture theater. * Photo: SunStone Ships

Greg Mortimer is a new small ship

Greg Mortimer’s elegant restaurant. * Photo: SunStone Ships

Greg Mortimer is a New Small Ships

Greg Mortimer’s Elephant Island Bar. * Photo: SunStone Ships

Aurora Expeditions will deploy Greg Mortimer in Antarctica during its inaugural season, starting in October. The company’s first purpose-built ship, it is named after Aurora’s founder, an Australian mountaineer who’s conquered Everest.

SunStone has contracted six further Infinity-class new builds and has long-term charter agreements in place for all. Aurora is going to take a second ship, and the others will sail for operators like Albatros Expeditions, Vantage Cruise Line and Victory Cruise Lines. SunStone also holds options for three further Infinity-class vessels.

Emerald Harmony

Emerald Waterways, a new brand formed by Australia’s Scenic Group, started operations in 2014 in Europe. It offers a “four-star-plus” alternative to the top-luxury Scenic brand. Emerald’s first Asia cruises were introduced on the 68-passenger Mekong Navigator in 2016.

Recently the new Star-Ship Emerald Harmony began Mekong service in Cambodia and Vietnam. The vessel’s shallow draft enables turnarounds in Ho Chi Minh City, eliminating bus rides to a remote landing site.

Emerald Harmony is new on the Mekong

New on the Mekong – Emerald Harmony. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

Emerald Harmony's lounge

Emerald Harmony Horizon Bar & Lounge. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

Emerald Harmony is a new small ship

Emerald Harmony sports a sizable pool. * Photo; Emerald Waterways

Thirteen-, 17- and 21-day cruise and land tours combine an eight-day sailing between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap, Cambodia, with overnights in Hanoi, Halong Bay and Hoi An, Vietnam, at the beginning or end of the cruise.

A free extension to Sapa, Vietnam, or Luang Prabang, Laos, is available with all itineraries, or two flights for the price of one combined with free extensions on 17- to 21-night itineraries. These launch offers apply to new Mekong sailings booked by Oct. 31, 2019.

Goodbye, Plastic

Emerald Harmony is also the first Star-Ship to remove all nonessential single-use plastics. Passengers are provided a metal water bottle to refill from water stations on board, and reusable glass water bottles are provided in the cabins.

In addition, recyclable bamboo and paper straws are used in the Reflections Restaurant and Horizon Bar & Lounge, and refillable dispensers replace cabin toiletry miniatures.

Emerald Waterways plans to make all its Star-Ships single-use plastic-free by the end of 2020.

new small ship Emerald Harmony

The sleek one-bedroom owner’s suite on Emerald Harmony. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

Aranui 6

Chinese shipyard Huanghai Shipbuilding signed a contract with Aranui Cruises of Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritime to build Aranui 6.

Aranui Cruises, whose last new build, Aranui 5, emerged from the same Chinese shipyard in 2015, combines passenger and cargo operations on far-flung voyages in the South Pacific.

Aranui 6 is on order

The passenger-freighter Aranui 5 debuted in 2015. * Photo: Aranui Cruises

At 459 feet/140 meters with capacity for 280 passengers and 119 crew, Aranui 6 will be slightly larger than Aranui 5, which stretches 410 feet/125 meters and carries 256 passengers.

The 14,500-gross-ton new build will offer a lounge, grill bar, shops, conference room, children’s playground, library, gym, spa and superior deluxe suites.

Its delivery date and deployment have not been announced.

Aranui 5, meanwhile, is going to operate new itineraries in 2021, including a maiden voyage to the Cook Islands, an expanded Pitcairn itinerary and its first dedicated Society Islands cruise.


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Asian-fusion restaurant Coocs aboard the new Scenic Eclipse

The New Scenic Eclipse

By Anne Kalosh.

Expedition cruising is getting glamorous. While the adventures outside may still be rugged, once travelers are back on board they’ll have every creature comfort on a growing number of vessels.

Take a look at Scenic’s newly introduced 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse, for example.

Billed as a “six-star discovery yacht,” it has all-veranda-suite accommodations, 10 dining venues, a Champagne bar, a spacious spa, a yoga/Pilates studio and butler service. A sleek exterior profile, internal spaciousness, stylish design and original art make Scenic Eclipse a far cry from expedition cruising’s traditionally utilitarian vessels, some of them converted from scientific research use.

The new Scenic Eclipse

Scenic Eclipse sailing off the Outer Hebrides. * Photo: Scenic

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Total Sensory Experience

“This is more than just a cruise ship, this is a total sensory experience,” said project director Karen Moroney of Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours. “From the entry foyer to the guest suites and the dining areas, the feel is one of calm, luxury and serenity to allow our guests to truly relax and take in the total voyage experience.”

In addition, a number of artworks were commissioned from renowned international artists and are a focal point of the decor.

Scenic Eclipse can carry up to 228 travelers (200 in the Arctic and Antarctica) on voyages highlighting nature, cultural encounters, historic cities and ancient monuments.

The 114 all-veranda suites range from 345 square feet to a sprawling 2,659 square feet. All accommodations are served by butlers, and the passenger-to-crew ratio is nearly 1:1.

Ocean-view bathroom in a spa suite on Scenic Eclipse

But of course! An ocean-view bathroom in a spa suite. * Photo: Scenic

The 10 dining options include Asian fusion, a sushi bar, an upscale French restaurant, a Chef’s Table, teppanyaki grill, a cooking emporium called Epicure and a poolside grill/buffet.

Dinner in the Chef's Table on Scenic Eclipse

A Chef’s Table creation. * Photo: Scenic

Bars and lounges include the intimate Champagne Bar, elegant Lobby Lounge and the Azure Bar & Café for fare like oysters accompanied by a crisp pinot gris. Top-shelf beverages, fine wine, cocktails, and specialty teas and coffees are included in Scenic’s pricing.

Asian-fusion restaurant Coocs aboard the new Scenic Eclipse

The super glam Asian-fusion restaurant Cocos. * Photo: Scenic

The 5,920-square-foot Senses Spa provides a gym and separate yoga and Pilates studio. A theater hosts entertainment and lectures. There are indoor and outdoor plunge pools.

Yoga and pilates studio aboard the new Scenic Eclipse

The dedicated yoga and pilates studio. * Photo: Scenic

Two Helicopters & a Submarine

Scenic Eclipse has a Polar Class 6 ice rating. The ship’s zero-speed stabilizer fins are 50 percent larger than standard to provide greater stability by cutting roll more than 85 percent. Other technical features include dynamic positioning, a GPS system that holds the vessel in place so anchors don’t have to be dropped with the potential to damage sensitive seabeds. For added safety, there are redundancies in propulsion and navigation systems and food refrigeration.

Adding to its exploration capabilities, Scenic Eclipse carries two six-guest helicopters and one six-guest submarine capable of reaching depths of nearly 1,000 feet.

The new Scenic Eclipse has a heli pad

Two helicopters and a submarine for additional exploration. * Photo: Scenic

“We are extremely proud of this ship and what it brings to the world of cruising,” said Glen Moroney, chairman and founder, Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours. “In terms of innovation, technology and design, it is second to none.”

An Australia-based tour operator that sells internationally, Scenic in recent years branched out to building river vessels for its Scenic and Emerald Waterways brands. Now, having constructed one ocean expedition yacht, a second is due to follow.

Scenic Eclipse is scheduled to be named by the British actress Dame Helen Mirren during festivities in New York on Sept. 10.

The ship will sail between the polar regions, also hitting points in the Caribbean, South America, Alaska, Canada, Europe and Scandinavia, with per diems ranging from $600 to $1,100 depending on the itinerary. Here are more details.

Luxury is the currently the hottest trend in expedition cruising. Luxury line Silversea got into this area in 2008 with refurbished and upgraded ships. And now Silversea, Crystal Expedition Cruises, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, Ponant, Seabourn and SeaDream Yacht Club are all building sumptuous vessels.

So look for many more top-tier choices in the years to come.

A bar on the New Scenic Eclipse

Cheers! 🥃 One of the ship’s several bars and lounges. Top-shelf brands are included in the fare. * Photo: Scenic

>>Stay tuned for Peter Knego’s story when he sails aboard Scenic Eclipse in early September!


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The wide AmaMagna

Danube River Cruise on the New AmaMagna.

By Gene Sloan.

Like other passengers who have traveled before on European river ships, I am stunned when I first walk onto AmaMagna.

The lobby of the new AmaWaterways vessel on the Danube seems to go on forever, and it’s not the only space that is improbably large.

The wide and spacious AmaMagna lobby area

The AmaMagna lobby is BIG! * Photo: Gene Sloan

As a steward leads me and my wife, Nicole, up the main stairway toward our room, we encounter a cabin hallway so ridiculously wide that it almost seems like a deliberate poke at the competition: Look at what we can do.

The hallway is just the appetizer. When the steward swings open the door to our room, the true magnitude of AmaMagna’s differences with other river ships becomes evident. At 355 square feet, the cabin is as spacious and inviting as any you’ll see at a fine hotel on land. It boasts a sumptuous queen-size bed, large seating area, oodles of storage space and a full step-out balcony.

Spacious Ama Magna balcony cabin

An Outside Balcony cabin, the most common category of cabin on the vessel. * Photo: Gene Sloan

This is not a one-off suite, mind you. I am staying in an Outside Balcony, the most common category of cabin on the vessel. More than half of AmaMagna’s 96 cabins are as big or bigger.

At 72 feet, AmaMagna is nearly twice as wide as most other European river vessels.

AmaMagna is wider than other river boats

The massiveness of AmaMagna’s extra width becomes evident when it docks stern-to-stern with a “normal” size AmaWaterways ship, the one-year-old AmaLea, in Passau, Germany. AmaMagna is roughly 34 feet wider. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Its size allows for far bigger cabins than is typical on European river ships, far more dining venues (there are four in all), more lounge areas, a larger gym and spa zone, an enormous sun deck, and such unusual-for-a-river-ship amenities as a cinema that doubles as a gaming room.

In short, AmaMagna is all about abundance, including — and this is key — an abundance of total space per person. While it is far bigger than most river ships in Europe, AmaMagna doesn’t sail with all that many more people.

Aimed at an upscale crowd, it’s designed to carry just 196 passengers at the most. That’s just six more than Viking Cruises puts on river vessels half its size.

The result: A space-to-passenger ratio so high that AmaMagna is now an instant outlier among the river ships of Europe.

As far as European river cruising goes, it is, indeed, a quirky vessel.

Boutique on board AmaMagna Danube River Cruise

The AmaMagna’s spacious boutique sells Bavarian-style Dirndl dresses for those who like a classic look! * Photo: Gene Sloan

Aiming at the Small-Ship Ocean Cruiser 

With its bigger cabins and multiple eateries and lounges, AmaMagna feels more like one of the small, upscale ocean ships operated by the likes of Windstar Cruises or Ponant than a traditional river ship, and that’s by design. AmaWaterways co-founder Rudi Schreiner is hoping to lure more small-ship ocean cruisers to river cruising with the vessel.

In doing so, he is making a bold bet. There’s a reason few river lines have deployed a ship this wide and spacious in Europe (only Crystal Cruises has operated a similarly sized vessel in recent years, but it will be leaving the line’s fleet later this year).

AmaMagna is so thick at its middle that it can’t fit through many of the locks on Europe’s main waterways, some of which measure just 12 meters wide — about 39.4 feet.

The wide AmaMagna

The 72-foot wide AmaMagna. * Photo: Gene Sloan

That means its range of travel is greatly limited.

AmaMagna essentially is forever trapped on the Danube below Vilshofen, Germany. Because of its size, it never will be able to transit the Main-Danube Canal to the Main, Rhine and Moselle rivers as many smaller river ships do. Extended voyages that take in parts of the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland and the north of Germany are beyond its capabilities.

On the flipside, it is now the undisputed new Queen of the Danube. Under development for nearly a decade, it offers an elegance and spaciousness that is unique on the rivers of Europe.

A Boutique Hotel-Like Feel  

Walking into my room (cabin 313), I am struck by its enormous depth. Just inside the doorway, there is a front hall-like entryway that connects to two separate bathrooms: One with a large, walk-in shower and double sinks; the other with a toilet. It’s the sort of space-gobbling indulgence you generally only see at a boutique hotel on land.

Ama Magna's large cabin bathroom

The very spacious bathroom with double sinks and a large shower. * Photo: Gene Sloan

From the entry and bathroom area, you walk through closable doors into the heart of the room, which alone would be bigger than many river-ship cabins. The room is filled with high-tech (and presumably expensive) touches, some more useful than others. I love the USB ports next to the bed and the large, flat-screen television that offers free on-demand movies.

But the iPad on the desk that is configured to serve as a remote control for the room’s lights and air conditioning system seems a little superfluous. I’m also a little puzzled by the super-low bed-side tables (Nicole literally fell out of bed one night reaching for her iPhone on one of them).

The Main Lounge with its centrally located bar and plush seating serves as a central meeting point for daily briefings, a nightly “Sip & Sail” happy hour where cocktails and other drinks are available at no extra charge, and evening entertainment from an on-board piano player. But there also are two smaller lounge rooms just a few steps away, with the ship’s cinema in between them.

The Ama Magna's Main Lounge & Bar

The comfy Main Lounge with its centrally located bar. * Photo: Gene Sloan

At the back of the vessel, a “Zen Wellness Studio” includes a relaxing, glass-walled lounge with a bar where you’ll find a fruit-spiked “detox water of the day” as well as fresh juices. Its primary function is as a waiting area for the two massage rooms, located just behind a partition.

The Zen Wellness Studio is also home to the fitness room, which has two running machines, two sit-down bikes, a rowing machine, free weights and — just outside on the balcony — four spinning machines. This is quite a respectable spread for a river ship in Europe, where fitness rooms often are afterthoughts (the biggest river cruise operator, Viking, doesn’t even have fitness rooms on its ships).

The Ama Magna gym faces the Danube River

The impressive gym. * Photo: Gene Sloan

No Shortage of Eateries

Just below the Main Lounge, the 140-seat Main Restaurant is the primary venue for meals. Breakfast and lunch are buffet-style with additional a la carte items available from servers (made-to-order breakfast options include Eggs Benedict, poached eggs and waffles; lunch brings burgers and specialty pizza).

The Main Restaurant aboard AmaMagna

The 140-seat Main Restaurant aboard AmaMagna. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Dinner in the Main Restaurant is a sit-down affair with changing four-course menus. Diners have a choice of three entrees each night, mostly Continental dishes such as pan-fried Atlantic sea bream with a prawn caviar sauce, baby spinach and quinoa; or slow-roasted beef “Rossini” with duck pate, truffle jus, glazed vegetables and pumpkin mash.

Pan-fried Atlantic sea bream on the Ana Magna

The pan-fried Atlantic sea bream with a prawn caviar sauce, baby spinach and quinoa. * Photo: Gene Sloan

One deck down from the Main Restaurant is The Chef’s Table, an intimate, 36 seater open for dinner only that offers an elegant, seven-course tasting menu that chefs partially prepare in front of patrons. With unchanging dishes, it’s meant to be done once per cruise.

The Chef’s Table restaurant on AmaMagna

Lovely presentation in the The Chef’s Table. * Photo: Gene Sloan

The Chef’s Table aboard the AmaMagna

The Chef’s Table. * Photo: Gene Sloan

The Chef’s Table sits side-by-side with Jimmy’s Wine Bar & Restaurant, a 60-seat, dinner-only eatery that serves the same dishes as the Main Restaurant each night but in a casual, family-style format. It features large, communal tables where each course is delivered on large platters for everyone to share.

Rounding out the options is Al Fresco, a casual venue at the front of the vessel that offers some of the best views on board. With just two dozen seats at six tables, it offers an extended light breakfast each day for early and late risers, a light lunch service, afternoon tapas, and a reservation-only dinner with a six-course tasting menu.

Ice cream on Ama Magna deck

An ice cream social on AmaMagna’s Sundeck is among the deck-top activities during an afternoon on the river. * Photo: Gene Sloan

In general, the food on AmaMagna is at its best when it ties to the Bavarian and Austrian regions where the ship is based. Our favorite meal during a week on board was one of the simplest: A feast-like “Bavarian Lunch” in the Main Restaurant on the day we crossed into Germany that offered up all the classics of the region including Bavarian bratwurst, sausage, spaetzle and sauerkraut.

A Classic Itinerary  

While it’s capable of sailing all the way down river to Romania, AmaMagna this year is sticking to the most popular stretch of the Danube between Vilshofen and Budapest, Hungary. As is typical for river ships in this segment of the waterway, it’s offering one-way, seven-night sailings between the two destinations that include stops in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.

Budapest sights on a Danube River Cruise

A visit to Budapest’s iconic Matthias Church, which dates to the 13th century, is among the highlights of an AmaMagna cruise on the Danube. All of the vessel’s voyages either begin or end in the historic city. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Come next year, AmaMagna also will operate occasional seven-night trips on the lower part of the Danube between Budapest and Giurgiu, Romania — a segment of the river that sees far fewer vessels. The trips will include stops in Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria.

In broad strokes, the itineraries are like those offered by other lines on the Danube. But every line does the river a little differently.

Here, a day-by-day look at what we experienced on our AmaMagna sailing, a westbound “Melodies of the Danube” voyage starting in Budapest:


With its double-wide size, AmaMagna is easy to spot among the rows of river ships docked along the waterfront of Budapest. “Just look for the big one,” I tell the driver of the taxi taking us to the vessel from the city’s bus station, and he finds it straightaway. Since we already have been in Europe for several days, we are arriving on our own. But for the many passengers landing in Budapest on flights booked through AmaWaterways, a transfer from the airport is included in the package, making things easy.

As is typical for the many Danube cruises departing out of Budapest, check-in for the vessel is at 3:00pm. But AmaMagna staff graciously welcome early arrivals like us on board for coffee, tea or even a light lunch in the ship’s forward-facing Al Fresco eatery while we wait for our rooms to be ready. They also happily pull out some of the ship’s dozens of bikes for a group of particularly adventurous early arrivers who want to get their touring started with a cycle into town.

Fleet of bikes aboard the Ama Magna

There are a LOT of bikes aboard the AmaMagna. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Often called one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with a riverfront lined with grand palaces, churches and other historic structures, Budapest is one of the highlights of any Danube cruise, and vessels such as AmaMagna usually spend at least a full night and a day in the city, with a significant amount of included-in-the-fare touring on the agenda.

Our sightseeing begins even before the initial welcome dinner with a nearly hour-long cruise through the heart of the former co-capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Nearly everyone on board flocks to AmaMagna’s open-air Sundeck to take in such magnificent sites as the 117-year-old Hungarian Parliament Building — a 691-room, neo-Gothic confection that dominates the waterfront of the city — and the massive Baroque palace of the Hungarian kings known as Buda Castle. All the while, the vessel’s enthusiastic cruise manager, Maddy Caldaruse, offers commentary.

Neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament Building

All eyes are on the Neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament Building. * Photo: Gene Sloan

The touring continues the next morning with guided outings. As is typical for AmaWaterways sailings, passengers have several choices for exploring, including a standard half-day city tour by bus that includes a brief stroll on foot and an all-on-foot “hike” through the city that hits many of its main site.

Statue in Budapest on a Danube River Cruise

Gene & Nicole meet an “old” friend along the way! * Photo: Gene Sloan

Eager for a bit of exercise, we choose the latter and are not disappointed, although we find its description as a hike a bit of a stretch. Call it a long walk — one that, no doubt, would be strenuous for some travelers. Our pedometers tally a bit over four miles in total as we wander around the Parliament area of Budapest (where AmaMagna is docked) before crossing the city’s iconic Chain Bridge over the Danube to Buda Castle, Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion.

Budapest's Chain Bridge on a Danube River cruise

In case you were tempted … there’s no climbing on Budapest’s Chain Bridge. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Reaching the latter sites requires an uphill climb of more than 500 feet, but it’s well worth it for the views. High-atop-a-hill Buda Castle is the definitive place to snap the perfect Budapest selfie with the winding Danube, Chain Bridge and Parliament in the background.

Buda Castle Budapest on a Danube River Cruise

Getting to the Buda Castle requires an uphill climb of more than 500 feet, and the views are well worth it. * Photo: Gene Sloan.

By the time we are back on board, we are exhausted. But in a scene that will repeat itself many times over the coming days, we soon are up in the Main Lounge enjoying the included “Sip & Sail” pre-dinner cocktails, making and mingling with new friends in advance of a multi-course dinner.


Reading through the schedule for this day, we had grand plans to wake early for a bit of top-side exercise. AmaWaterways has developed an extensive wellness program over the past two years, and the wellness host on AmaMagna, the ever-energetic Tiago, is offering two morning spinning classes, a Pilates class and an introduction to yoga — all before 8:00am.

Alas, our healthful ambitions are no match for the luscious comfort of our AmaMagna cabin bed, and we end up rising just minutes before we pull into Bratislava around breakfast time.

That said, we are sure to be ready in time for the morning tours of the small Slovakian capital, which lies along a pastoral stretch of the Danube just a few miles from the Austrian border. Sandwiched between the two most iconic destinations on the river (Budapest and Vienna), lesser-known Bratislava is a little gem of a town with a medieval and Gothic center that is not to be missed.

If it’s your first time in Bratislava, you’ll want to sign up for the walking tour that AmaWaterways (and every other river line that visits here) offers through the city’s pedestrian-only core.

Bratislava street art

Be careful! * Photo: Gene Sloan

In just an hour or two, you’ll ramble past all the main attractions including St. Martin’s Cathedral (where the kings of Hungary were crowned for centuries), onion-dome-topped Michael’s Gate and the Old Town Hall.

Bratislava's cute old town.

Bratislava’s medieval and Gothic center is super charming. * Photo: Gene Sloan

For a bit more adventure, AmaWaterways also offers a hike up to Bratislava Castle, which towers above the city on a riverfront hill. But since we have explored the town center and the castle quite a bit on past trips, we sign up for the third of three touring options: A three-hour “Taste of Slovakia” walking tour.

Billed as a chance to experience Bratislava’s growing craft beer scene, this latter outing is, alas, a bit of a disappointment. In just the last few years, Bratislava has emerged as a significant destination for craft beer fans with more than a dozen start-up breweries and brewpubs, and numerous craft beer-serving bars. But we get little of this history during what essentially is a standard walking tour with just a rushed few minutes of tasting at a single brewpub thrown in at the end.

If you’re serious about your craft beer tasting, I’d say skip the guided tour and just go off on your own. Within a few streets of the main square, you’ll find plenty of craft beer-selling outlets, including my favorite Bratislava brewpub — Bratislava Mestiansky Pivovar. It’s a good place to try some traditional Slovakian bar snacks, too, including bryndza (a type of sheep’s cheese).

READ Gene’s “Exploring Bratislava’s Booming Brewpub Scene” article about the 3 days he spent there before the cruise soaking up the suds!

Bratislava beer put on a Danube River Cruise

Bratislava is a great city for beer lovers. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Bratislava also is a great place to take out one of the bikes that AmaMagna carries on its top deck. You’ll find a biking trail lining the Danube that’s perfect for a scenic ride. If you’re super ambitious, you might even attempt the 7.5-mile ride to Devin Castle, a substantial ruin that commands a high cliff overlooking the point where the Morava river spills into the Danube.

Just be sure to be back at AmaMagna in time for sailaway to Vienna (usually around noon). AmaMagna sails early from Bratislava so it can reach the grand Austrian capital during dinnertime. This allows for an after-dinner outing into the city, which is exactly what we do with some friends on board. We order up an Uber on a whim to take us to a nearby bar (yes, you’ll find Uber in Vienna and Bratislava, too — but not in Budapest).


After our late-night foray into one of Vienna’s drinking districts, we decide to sleep in today, skipping the morning tours of the city the line has scheduled. For those who do go, there are two options, both lasting about three hours: A traditional bus tour (with some walking) to such iconic sites as St. Stephen’s Cathedral and The Hofburg, and a more active biking tour through the city center.

We’re not the only ones playing hooky from the morning tours. Like many other lines operating on the Danube, AmaWaterways includes daily guided tours of the places its ships visit in its fares. But passengers are under no obligation to stick with the group. On any given day, you’re free to stay on board (where you’ll sometimes find additional activities) or go off on your own.

We skip the morning touring in part because we have signed up for a big afternoon outing: An optional, guided trip to Schönbrunn Palace, the spectacular summer residence of the Habsburg Monarchy that is just outside Vienna’s city center. At 56 euro, this is one of just two extra-charge tours on this cruise (the other an evening Mozart and Strauss concert). In our opinion, it’s well worth the extra cost.

Schönbrunn Palace, on a Danube River Cruise

Schönbrunn Palace, the spectacular summer residence of the Habsburg Monarchy. * Photo: Gene Sloan

With 1,441 rooms, Schönbrunn Palace is a stunning testament to the one-time wealth and power of the Habsburgs, who once ruled large chunks of Europe including Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania and the Austrian Netherlands. We marvel at its opulent, gold leaf-covered Great Gallery — a masterpiece of European Rococo décor — and its soaring, painting-lined Hall of Ceremonies. Smaller spaces such as the blue-and-white Porcelain Room and rosewood-covered Millions Room are equally jaw-dropping (you’ll have to trust us, as photos within the palace’s interior are forbidden).

The formal gardens surrounding Schönbrunn Palace are just as over-the-top. We skip an optional visit with our guide to the palace’s carriage museum to wander alone through the maze-like grounds, discovering hidden fountains, statue-lined corridors and even a pigeon-filled aviary. Strolling down the broad avenue of its perfectly symmetrical, flower-filled Great Parterre, we imagine ourselves courtiers to that legendary Habsburg queen, Maria Theresa, accompanying her on a long walk to the colonnaded Gloriette that serves as a focal point. On a sunny summer day, it is a dreamy experience.

cone of gelato

Nicole caps a walk through Schönbrunn Palace’s glorious gardens with a cool gelato. * Photo: Gene Sloan

Back on board just in time for dinner, I sneak away to the Sundeck for a moment to watch as AmaMagna departs Vienna for Pochlarn, Austria, in the picturesque Wachau Valley. Arriving up top, I find that all the Sundeck’s taller structures including a bike-storage pavilion, dividers around the pool and lounge-area shades have been folded down for what turns out to be a very tight squeeze under several of Vienna’s bridges.

This sort of top-deck disassembly for bridges is a common site on European river ships, but it never ceases to amaze me. I am allowed to stay up top only after promising to remain safely seated while we quietly glide under the bridges with just feet to spare.


I have been on quite a few Danube cruises over the years, and I always look forward to the day the ship reaches the Wachau Valley. Located about 50 miles west of Vienna, it’s a postcard-perfect, UNESCO World Heritage Site-designated region filled with vineyard-covered hills, apricot orchards, storybook villages, castles and monasteries.

If you’re like me, the problem you’ll have on this day is choosing which one of the included tours to do. AmaWaterways offers four options and, having tried all of them in some form over the years on various Danube trips, I can say there isn’t a bad one in the bunch.

If this is your first time to the area, you’ll probably want to sign on for the visit to Melk Abbey — a magnificent, hill-top Baroque structure that is the crown jewel of the Wachau area. You won’t be alone, as about two-thirds of AmaMagna passengers choose this tour.

For the adventurous, AmaWaterways also offers a 15-mile biking trip through the valley along a path that winds along the Danube and through adjacent towns and vineyards. If you’re going to bike at all on your Danube cruise, this is the place to do it. The scenery is spectacular, and the riding easy. I’ve biked this stretch twice before and loved it both times.

If, like Nicole, you’ve had enough of Baroque architecture by this point in your trip, and you’re not a biking fan, you can chose one of the two more-low-key tours that AmaWaterways offers to the delightful little town of Durnstein.

Durnstein on a Danube River cruise.

The delightful little town of Durnstein. * Photo: Gene Sloan

One takes you on a hike up to its fortress-like castle; the other on a walking tour of the town and a wine tasting. Along with just nine other passengers, we chose the latter and have a blast trying out three local wines in the private tasting room of small local vintner Leopold Böhmer (whose grandson, also named Leopold Böhmer, led our tasting).

vineyards of Durnstein on a Danube River Cruise

Checking out the local vines. * Photo: Gene Sloan

During a few minutes of free time in Durnstein, we also stop in the bakery next door to the tasting room for pastries made with fresh-picked apricots (a local specialty).

Fresh pastries in Durnstein.

Fresh pastries in Durnstein. * Photo: Gene Sloan.

Returning to the ship just before lunch, we get a treat of another sort: The chance to watch AmaMagna make a daylight passage through one of the 12 giant locks that it must navigate during this trip. Pretty much everyone on board heads to the Sundeck to watch the vessel’s captain and his assistants ever-so-carefully maneuver the extra-wide vessel into the narrow chamber. It barely fits.

lock on the Danube River

One of the 12 locks the AmaMagna passed through. * Photo: Gene Sloan


Today is the day that our river cruise turns into a bus tour.

The main reason that river ships stop in Linz, which isn’t particularly charming, is that it’s near Salzburg, Austria — a bucket-list destination for many visitors to this region. Alas, “near” is a relative term. AmaWaterways offers two tours from the ship to Salzburg on this day, one slightly shorter than the other, that each involve four or more hours of busing. There’s also a third tour from Linz to the Austrian Lake District near Salzburg that involves more than five hours of sitting on a bus.

Wary of so much time in a bus, Nicole and I opt for a fourth option that only involves three hours on the road: A trip to Cesky Krumlov in the nearby Czech Republic. We’re quickly thrilled with our choice.

Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic on a Danube River Cruise

Charming Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. * Photo: Gene Sloan

With commentary from a wonderful Austrian guide who recounts the “Iron Curtain” days when it was difficult to travel the winding, mountainous route to the town, the 85-minute time in transit passes quickly. We particularly enjoy the views of the still-relatively-undeveloped, forested borderland between the two countries.

The town itself is a charmer. Led by our guide, we amble through its medieval, cobblestone-lined core, which is nearly encircled by the bubbling waters of the Moldau River, on the way to its towering castle complex.

The Moldau River in the Czech Republic

The bubbling waters of the Moldau River. * Photo: Gene Sloan

The visit also includes a stop to see Maria Theresa, the bear that lives in the dry moat protecting the castle. It’s a tradition that dates to the 1500s.

Afterwards, Nicole and I head off on our own in search of a trdelink, the warm and sugary pastry often filled with chocolate (yum!) that is a local specialty. We’re also on the lookout for a local Czech beer. Finding one, we get it to go and sit by the banks of the Moldau across from the castle, toasting a day that has turned into one of the best of the entire cruise.

Beers by the Moldau River

Toasting a great day by the banks of the Moldau River. * Photo: Gene Sloan


It’s pouring rain as the final day of the trip begins, which is a problem. We have signed up for a 14-mile-long guided biking tour along the banks of the Danube, and we haven’t packed any rain gear.

The good news is the bike trip is just one of three tour options this morning, and at least one of the others — a guided walk through the cozy Bavarian town where we are docked, Passau — seems somewhat doable in the rain even without gear, thanks to the large blue umbrellas that come as standard amenities in our cabin.

rainy day in Passau

Puddle jumping in Passau. * Photo: Gene Sloan

We make a last-minute switch and soon are hopping puddles with a guide on the way to Passau’s 14th-century Gothic Town Hall and Italian-designed St. Stephen’s Cathedral (which, as our guide Chris is eager to point out, has the biggest cathedral organ in the world).

Passau fountain

The Wittelsbacher Fountain at the center of Passau features three little angels representing the three rivers that merge at the town: the Danube, Inn and Ilz. Just behind the fountain is the town’s crown jewel, the Italian-designed St. Stephen’s Cathedral. * Photo Gene Sloan

Just over the border with Austria, Passau sits on a strategic but very flood-prone spit of land at the confluence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers. Chris the guide pauses several times — maybe one too many — to show off flood markers that are well up the sides of the town’s buildings.

I’ve always found Passau adorable. But it’s not nearly as adorable on a wet and chilly day. The Danube-facing cafe in front of town hall with views of the centuries-old castle across the river doesn’t even bother to open. Its outdoor tables and chairs are soaked. Nor is there much of a buzz at the Saturday market on the main square. After barely an hour out-and-about, we retreat to the ship.

Thankfully, the rain lets up by the afternoon, when we are off on one last adventure: An “Oktoberfest” celebration. Manufactured just for it us, it takes place in a tent at a Benedictine abbey up the river in Vilshofen and features local beer, an “oompah band” (as our cruise director calls it), and a demonstration of Bavarian dancing.

beer on a Danube River cruise

A little “Oktoberfest” celebration! * Photo: Gene Sloan

It is during the latter event that I make the biggest mistake of the cruise. I stand to take a picture of the band for this story just as a cheery German woman in traditional dress is calling for volunteers.

Apparently, it appears to all that I am volunteering, and suddenly I find myself shunted into a line with two other passengers, tasked with mimicking a lederhosen-wearing instructor’s knee slaps and foot kicks in tune with the music.

Gene Sloan at Oktoberfest

Ya ya ya! Gene and his two left (in blue). * Photo: Nicole Edmund

Let’s just say it doesn’t go well.

The trip itself, on the other hand, is a resounding success.

What It Costs

Seven-night “Melodies of the Danube” sailings on AmaMagna from Budapest to Vilshofen start at $2,549 per person, based on double occupancy. Similar seven-night “Romantic Danube” sailings in the opposite direction, from Vilshofen to Budapest, start at $2,449 per person, based on double occupancy. In addition to a room, fares include all meals, tours during every port stop, beer and wine with dinner, and cocktails during “Sip & Sail” happy hours.

The “Melodies of the Danube” itinerary can be extended with a two-night pre-cruise stay in Budapest and three-night post-cruise stay in Prague, Czech Republic, that is sold as a package for $1,360 per person. Passengers on a “Romantic Danube” sailing can extend the trip with either a two-night pre-cruise stay in Munich or three-night pre-cruise stay in Prague. The two extensions cost $740 and $840 per person, respectively.

Gene Sloan has written about cruising for more than 25 years and for many years oversaw USA TODAY’s award-winning cruise site, USA TODAY Cruises. He’s sailed on nearly 150 ships.

Gene Sloan on a Danube River Cruise

Gene Sloan takes a rest. It’s a tough job …!

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New Ponant Ship Le Dumont d'Urville.

New Ponant Ship.

By Anne Kalosh.

French line Ponant has been expanding its fleet and its itineraries with an incredible four new ships entering service in a 12-month period. They are all part of the new Explorers series.

These 10,000-gross-ton ships each carry 184 passengers, making them a tad smaller than Ponant’s previous three vessels. This slightly smaller size allows them to access even more destinations, and Ponant is now sailing all over the world, in regions cold and warm.

New Ponant Ship Le Dumont d'Urville.

Le Dumont d’Urville is the latest ship in Ponant’s Explorers series. * Photo: Fred Michel for Ponant

New Itineraries Galore

Nearly 40 new itineraries are being introduced across the nine-ship fleet this year. They range from the Great Lakes to the Seychelles, and Greenland to Turkey’s Turquoise Coast.

The latest new Ponant ship just handed over by Norway’s Vard shipyard, an expert in building ice-class vessels, is Le Dumont-d’Urville. It will operate a maiden season of cruises to the Baltic capitals and St. Petersburg, Russia. Sailings along the coasts of France and in the Mediterranean follow. Theme cruises will highlight fine dining, wine tasting, music and other topics.

Le Dumont-d’Urville closely follows Le Bougainville, handed over April 5, and 2018’s Le Champlain and Le Lapérouse.

All the Explorers have 1C ice-class ratings, enabling them to operate in the polar regions. Features include an infinity pool and a multifunctional marina platform. This has three positions, for use as a sun deck, as a launch pad for kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling and other water sports, and as the embarkation point for a flotilla of 10 Zodiacs.

Blue Eye

Perhaps the most talked-about feature, though, is the innovative Blue Eye lounge, an underwater, multi-sensory space. There, two portholes are shaped like a cetacean’s eyes. Integrated digital screens project the live images captured by three underwater cameras, and hydrophones pipe in the sounds of the sea. “Body listening” sofas vibrate softly to the sounds.

Ponant’s next new build, Le Bellot, is scheduled for April 2020 delivery, followed by Le Jacques-Cartier in July 2020, rounding out the Explorers series.

After those, in 2021, comes the one-of-a-kind luxury icebreaker Le Commandant-Charcot. It will have a hybrid power system and be able to operate on liquefied natural gas and, for stints of two to three hours, battery power.

For more info, visit

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CroisiEurope's New Oceangoing Ship will visit Scenic Phang Nga Bay in Southeast Asia.

CroisiEurope’s New Oceangoing Ship.

By Anne Kalosh.

La Belle des Océans, currently sailing as Silver Discoverer for Silversea Expeditions, will vastly expand CroisiEurope’s oceangoing itineraries when it debuts for its new owner in October.

The 120-passenger ship is going to begin service in Southeast Asia before sailing to India, the Arabian Gulf, Egypt, the Greek Islands and the Mediterranean, before continuing on to North America on the St. Lawrence/Great Lakes in summer 2020.

CroisiEurope's New Oceangoing Ship La Belle des Océans will vastly expand CroisiEurope's itineraries

La Belle des Océans will vastly expand CroisiEurope’s itineraries. * Photo: CroisiEurope


La Belle des Océans will begin service with a 10-night itinerary between Singapore and Phuket. Destinations include Malaysia’s Malacca, Port Klang (for Kuala Lumpur), Penang and Langkawi, and Thailand’s Ko Muk, Ko Lanta and Phang Nga Bay. Ten departures are scheduled from Oct. 17 to Dec. 28, 2019.

In January, the ship will sail a pair of 10-night cruises, first to India and then from Abu Dhabi to Oman. A nine-night cruise in February explores Jordan, Egypt, Israel and Cyprus.

CroisiEurope's New Oceangoing Ship will visit Scenic Phang Nga Bay in Southeast Asia.

Scenic Phang Nga Bay is a stop on the ship’s Southeast Asia cruises. * Photo: CroisiEurope

On to the Mediterranean

Weeklong voyages from Piraeus (Athens) to Naples, Italy; Naples to Nice, France; and Nice to Ajaccio, Corsica, follow. April 2020 will be spent on weeklong Corsica sailings.

Then, in May, La Belle des Océans will cruise to Lisbon in 11 nights, and from there to the Portuguese island of Madeira and the Azores in an eight-night program.

Summer 2020 on the St. Lawrence

The ship will then head via Saint Pierre et Miquelon, a French outpost in North America, to Québec. Ten-night cruises visiting ports on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario will operate until October, with calls at Québec, Montréal, the Thousand Islands and Niagara-on-the-Lake for Niagara Falls.

La Belle des Océans will become CroisiEurope’s second oceangoing ship, joining La Belle de l’Adriatique.

To book any of these itineraries directly with CroisiEurope, here’s the link.

CroisiEurope's New Oceangoing Ship La Belle des Oceans has a great stern pool deck.

La Belle des Océans becomes CroisiEurope’s second oceangoing vessel. * Photo: CroisiEurope


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