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Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises is a newish (2014) subsidiary of the firm that owns American Cruise Lines with its large and ever-growing fleet of coastal and river ships. Its one ship, the 210-passenger PEARL MIST, shares many of the characteristics of the U.S. flag fleet yet it is an ocean-going vessel, registered in the Marshall Islands and operates with a largely non-American crew.

With this new ship, the firm’s cruise itineraries have expanded to New England, Eastern Seaboard, Eastern Canada, and the Great Lakes. Circumnavigations of Cuba were cancelled due to US government orders. Costa Rica and Panama, including canal transit, now cover the winter months. The ship is stabilized.

Pearl Mist in the St. Lawrence River. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Pearl Mist in the St. Lawrence River. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

PEARL MIST (built 2014 & 210 passengers)

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans and some Canadians, largely 50+ and many will be loyal American Cruise Lines’ passengers. Unlike the US-flag ACL, this ship is registered in the Marshall Islands and operates with a largely foreign national crew.

Passenger Decks

6; an elevator connects all cabin decks.

Price

$$$  Very Pricey

Included Features

Internet/WiFi; a daily cocktail hour before dinner, wine with lunch and dinner, open bar with hors d’oeuvres in the evening. Suggested tipping is high at $125 for a seven-day cruise or $18 a day.

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

➢For spring 2020, the PEARL MIST will makes its way up the Eastern Seaboard on a 10-day itinerary embarking at Charleston, then calling at Norfolk, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newport, Portland, Bar Harbor and Halifax.

➢After that the ship heads to the St. Lawrence River and Seaway with port calls such as in the Saguenay Fjord, Quebec Montreal and Toronto and into the Great Lakes.

➢May and September, 11 and 15-day cruises sees the ship operating between Portland, Maine and Toronto calling at Canadian Maritimes ports, plying the St. Lawrence River (Quebec City & Montreal), St. Lawrence Seaway and into Lake Ontario for Toronto. Additional 7-day spring and fall cruises from Portland visit three ports in Maine and three ports in New Brunswick.

➢11-day cruises, June to September, sail between Toronto and Chicago passing through four Great Lakes and Georgian Bay and stopping at Mackinac Island and Sault Ste. Marie, and shorter 7-day itineraries operate in August between Toronto and Chicago.

Pearl Seas Cruises

The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

➢Leaving the Great Lakes in September, the ship takes advantage of the fall foliage season in Canadian Maritimes and New England with 10- and 14-day trips between Quebec City and Boston.

➢ In October, at the end of the Canada season, the ship heads south along the Eastern Seaboard (a reverse of the northbound itinerary; see  above).

Note: The PEARL MIST will then make its way to a series of weekly 7-night cruises operating between December 1, 2020 and February 2, 2021 that feature the Panama Canal. Alternate cruises will begin in Cartagena, a port in Colombia and once the capital of the Spanish Empire in America, then proceed to visit the Kuna people in the San Blas Islands and pause at Colon at the entrance to the Panama Canal. The passage includes several sets of locks, often filled with impressive container ships. a crossing of Gatun Lake and lovely tropical landscape either side. Once in the Pacific Ocean, there is a day call in at the beautiful Las Perlas Archipelago before returning to Balboa for a final visit to nearby Panama City, a modern metropolis peppered with French and Spanish colonial architecture. The cruise ends here, and the next one embarks for the itinerary in reverse.

 

Pearl Seas Cruises adds Panama Canal

Panama Canal. * Photo: Pearl Seas Cruises

Why Go?

PEARL MIST is a small ship with just 210 passengers, roomy within, and one of the few lines that covers the Great Lakes, plus the St. Lawrence River, Canadian Maritime Provinces, New England and the East Coast. New for the winter months, Costa Rica and Panama with a canal transit, a pioneering possibility.

When to Go?

As the ship moves around according to the seasons, the when to go is already obvious. One point to keep in mind is that fall foliage in Canada occurs about a month ahead of New England.

Cabins

All are outside with sliding glass doors leading to a balcony with table and two chairs, and some additionally also have large picture windows. They are arranged over four decks and divided into five categories. 12 are set aside as singles. Oddly, cabin 302 is alone in having no balcony. Amenities include flat-screen TV, DVD player, and complimentary WiFi. Connection speed will vary widely by location. Be patient and remember it’s free.

Public Rooms

Two lounges are located forward. The Pacific Lounge has good views over the bow and to either side while the Atlantic Lounge, two decks below, has views to port and starboard. Additional small lounges are located on the next to lowest (2nd) deck and the Library Lounge on the 4th deck. The highest (6th deck) offers both covered and open seating.

Dining

The dining room, located aft on the main (lowest) deck, seats all at one open seating. Meals receive high marks and cater to North American tastes. Wine is included at lunch and dinner.

Activities & Entertainment

Exercise equipment resides outside on the 5th or Sun Deck. One or two lecturers travel with the ship to prepare passengers for what’s ashore. Mostly musical entertainment comes aboard in some ports.

Special Notes

While the ship has much in common with some of the larger vessels in the American Cruise Lines fleet, a sister company, the crew here is international. Many passengers will come over from ACL, hence a largely North American passenger list.

Along the Same Lines

Victory Cruise Lines operates similar itineraries on the Great Lakes, along the St. Lawrence River, and in the Canadian maritime provinces.

Contact

Pearl Seas Cruises, 741 Boston Post Road, Suite 250, Guilford, CT 06437. 1-888-882-1595. PearlSeasCruises.com

 

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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

Cruising for over a quarter century, this chic French line is a Francophile’s dream. Ponant’s crew is discreet, the décor is subtle and the food is tantalizing. French desserts, French cheeses and French wines accompany passengers on cruises around the world, from French Polynesia and the Caribbean to the North and South Poles, and lots in between.

Passengers are a well-traveled, well-dressed international lot and the handsome captains stroll around the ship in short sleeves chatting to guests as if they are one of the passengers. Ponant is a bit of Europe no matter where the ships are sailing.

In late 2014, the company’s name was simplified from the French Compagnie du Ponant, to just Ponant, a simpler name for the company’s growing international audience, though Ponant still remains the only French-flagged, French-flavored cruise line out there. Ponant is in the midst of building frenzy, with six 184-passenger expedition vessels in the pipeline between now and 2021. As they are delivered, itineraries will be expanded to offer more frequent sailings and brand-new destinations.

A hybrid electric icebreaker is to appear in 2021 and be able to make it to Geographic 90 Degrees North — The North Pole.

Note: Some sailings are directly operated by Ponant and others are under charter to well-known firms for individual sales as well as for special interest groups.

N.B. In August 2019, Ponant announced that the French-owned line has bought Paul Gauguin Cruises, operating the ship PAUL GAUGUIN in French Polynesia and that the ship will continue to operate under its current name.

Ponant's fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ponant’s fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

LE BOREAL (built 2010, 132 passengers), L’AUSTRAL (b. 2011, 132 p), LE SOLEAL (b. 2013, 132 p), LE LYRIAL (b. 2014, 122 p), LE PONANT (b. 1991, 64 p), LE LAPEROUSE (b. 2018, 184 p), LE CHAMPLAIN (b. 2018, 184 p),  LE  BOUGAINVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p) and LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p), LE BELLOT (due April 2020, 184p), LE JACQUES CARTIER, the sixth Explorer-class ship (due July 2020, 184p), and LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT (due April 2021, 270 p), specifically designed for polar explorations.

Ponant's mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant’s mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Passenger Profile

Mostly Europeans, heavy on French, Swiss and Germans, with a sprinkling of Francophiles from everywhere else — North America, Brazil, you name it. Children are welcome, but are expected to be well behaved; there is a children’s menu, Wii gaming console, and when there are a number of kids on board, a few activities are organized by a staff member.

On a handful of special family-friendly sailings per year (often a Med itinerary in the summer), a Kids Club is offered with kids’ counselors supervising games and activities for ages 4+. Several firms charter Ponant ships, so they will determine the languages, and a number of them are in the English-speaking markets.

Passenger Decks

6 with elevators to all decks (4 on LE PONANT, the motor sailing yatch, and no elevator)

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Open bar throughout ship, stocked cabin mini-bar, and all soft drinks. New for 2019 is free WiFi in all cabin categories on all ships.

PONANT                                                                                 LE BOUGAINVILLE delivered in 2019 as the third ship in the explorer class. * Photo: Ponant

Itineraries

The ships, with such an expanding fleet, roam all over the world on one- to two-week cruises (some longer): Mediterranean and Northern Europe, Alaska and Canada, Caribbean, Central America, both coasts of South America, West Africa and Southern Africa, Madagascar, Seychelles, French Polynesia and Oceania, Hawaii,  Indonesia, East Asia and focus on Japan, Eastern Russia, Australia and New Zealand, Antarctica, the Arctic including the Northwest Passage, trans0ocean positioning voyages. A few highlights include (and it’s a moveable feast:

  • 10- and 16-night Antarctica cruises November – February
  • Iceland & Arctic Circle cruises in summer; also Northwest Passage, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes
  • 6- and 7-night cruises out of Martinique to the Grenadine Islands in the winter; also Cuba (Cuban calls suspended due to a US government ban.
  • 7-night Croatia cruises round-trip out of Venice between May and September; also Western & Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt
  • 9-night New Zealand cruises in January and February; also Australia’s eastern coast
  • 7- to 13-night Alaska cruises in June and July; including Aleutian Islands
  • 13-night Chile cruises in November and February; also Amazon and Orinoco rivers, Sea of Cortez
  • New tropical destinations are being added to include the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, also Maldives and Madagascar, and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, also French Polynesia, Easter Island
  • South and Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Japan, Eastern Russia.
Why Go?

The French flare, the amazing food, the gorgeous interiors — tres chic. In 2018 Ponant signed an agreement with National Geographic Expeditions to have the latter’s experts and photographers come aboard in Australia, New Zealand and Asia/Pacific.

When to Go?

The fleet cruises in different regions of the world at the best time to visit.

Cabins

LE PONANT is an 88-meter, three-masted sailing ship with lots of wood and nautical touches such as navy blue and white bedding and fabrics in the rooms. Most cabins are on the lowest of the four passenger decks and have twin beds — two rooms have king beds — and there are a few triples. Five larger cabins are higher up on the Antigua Deck.

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL are nearly identical sister ships with the majority of cabins measuring between 200 and 236 square feet, not including the balconies (which all but eight cabins have). Cabins are designed in stylish neutrals of champagne, smoky greys or blues, and crisp whites with pops of color, like a red border on a bed throw or pillow.

All cabins are stocked with L’Occitane toiletries, bathrobes, mini bars and iPods, and a have a great split bathroom set-up — toilet in one little room and a large shower (and/or tub) and sink in another. They also have a desk and great adjustable reading lights on either side of the bed. Many standard cabins can accommodate three people with one on a sofa bed; ideal for families are the Prestige suites, which are ostensibly two connecting standard cabins. There are four large suites on the Deck 6 near the top of the ship.

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

The new 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE (2018), LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER  began arriving in mid-2018 and will continue into 2020. A feature on the new ships is the Blue Eye, an underwater sightseeing lounge. They make up what is termed Ponant Explorer Class with enhanced ice-breaking capabilities.

Public Rooms

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL have two restaurants, one main entertainment lounge, one combination lounge/bar, and a lovely outdoor bar with sea views. There is no casino. Each has a spa with a Turkish steam room, hair salon, and an excellent ocean-view gym with a row of treadmills and recumbent bikes, plus a Kinesis wall with weights, pulls and grips for weight training.

A small library area (with a Wii console nearby) and a boutique round out the public areas, unless you also count the medical clinic. The smaller LE PONANT has two restaurants, two indoor lounges and lots of deck space for sunbathing. All five of the vessels have a platform for watersports when anchored in favorable conditions.

Dining

Cuisine is a big part of the Ponant experience, and I still sometimes dream about the dark chocolate mousses we devoured on a L’AUSTRAL cruise to Croatia (I gained several solid pounds on that cruise). Each of the five ships has two restaurants, one a more formal fine-dining multi-course French gourmet venue for dinner and the other a casual buffet restaurant with outdoor and indoor seating and themed offerings. Some of the chefs are French (the pastry chef was on my last cruise) and no matter where they are from, they’ve been schooled in the French culinary tradition.

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Meals incorporate fish and grilled seafood, and plenty of delicious soups and salads of all kinds. When possible, local ingredients are used, from cherries in Kotor, Croatia, to rainbow trout from Nunavut, in the Arctic. Amazing desserts on offer might comprise a hazelnut mousse cake, lemon meringue tarts and that to die-to-for chocolate mousse already mentioned; easily the best desserts I’ve ever had on a cruise ship.

A selection of cheeses from France and Italy are a staple in the buffet and of the complimentary wines generously poured, I remember an especially refreshing French rose at lunch on route to our next Croatian port of call. You can always order a bottle off the extensive menu if you want something extra special.

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

Activities & Entertainment

The ships are in port every day, or nearly so, but if there’s a sea day, most people enjoy simply sunbathing by the pool and soaking up the scenery. In the French way of doing things, there isn’t an abundance of scheduled activities or group events. There are theme cruises from time to time focused on gourmet food and wine, film and topics like oceanography, with experts on board giving talks and demonstrations.

Evenings, a singing duo moves around the ship before and after dinner to serenade passengers as they sip cocktails and chat about the day’s adventures and the ones that lay ahead. At the top of the tiered decks at the stern on LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL is a wonderful al-fresco bar, an ideal place to plant yourself as the ship sails off into the sunset — likewise on LE PONANT’s sun deck. After dinner from time to time, a dance performance or film screening may be scheduled in the show lounge of the four sister ships.

The new and larger 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE, LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER started to debut in mid-2018 and continued into 2020, and the larger 270-passenger LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT will launch polar explorations in April 2021.

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions, 420 Lexington Avenue, Suite 2838, New York, NY 10170; us.ponant.com, 1-888-400-1082.

— HMS

 

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small ship cruises to the Greek Isles

Windstar Cruises.

This fleet of six combines Windstar’s three original sailing yachts, groundbreaking at the time for their large size and computer-controlled sails, with Seabourn’s former trio of small cruise ships also groundbreaking back in the day because of their luxurious all-suite accommodation and exquisite cuisine. All were built between 1986 and 1992, making them senior citizens in cruise ship speak, but thanks to repeated upgrades, the oldies remain in remarkably fine shape, and details are now available about the trio’s major reconstruction program.

N.B. The STAR PRIDE, STAR BREEZE and STAR LEGEND will undergo lengthening and the addition of 50 suites, all new bathrooms, two additional dining venues, and more fuel efficient new engines. The deck pool area and spa will be redesigned. The complete project will last from October 2019 to November 2020 with staggered withdrawals from service. The passenger capacities will increase to 312 but never fear, the trio will continue to be covered by QuirkyCruise. STAR BREEZE is currently undergoing its $85 million refit.

The collective aim is to provide a casually elegant no-jackets-required small-ship experience with alfresco dining, sail-away parties on deck, and generally lots of time spent outdoors soaking up the sun and sea. The MO is sophistication without stuffiness on cruises that are not crazy expensive. Windstar Cruises runs frequent promotions, from waiving the single supplement fees to discounts on fares, and free shipboard credits, shore excursions and WiFi.

N.B. WIND SPIRIT will further delay return to service from Tahiti to October 15, 2020 due to Centers for Disease Control “No Sail” date of September 20. 2020. The other five ships are scheduled for late 2020 and onto July 2021. In the interim, major HVAC updates will take place.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

WIND STAR (built 1986, 148 passengers), WIND SPIRIT (b. 1988, 148 p), WIND SURF (b. 1990, 310 p), STAR PRIDE (b. 1988, 212 p), STAR BREEZE (b. 1989, 312 p I 2020), and STAR LEGEND (b.1992, 212 p).

small ship cruises to the Greek Isles

Gorgeous WInd Star under full sail. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Passenger Profile

The majority are North American couples in their 40s to 70s, with a fair number of British and European passengers in the mix.. Older children, 12 and up, might enjoy the sailing ships, especially on warm weather itineraries when there are oodles of opportunities to use the watersports equipment.

Passenger Decks

WIND SPIRIT/WIND STAR have 4 decks and no elevators; WIND SURF and STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND have 6 decks and elevators between them all.

Price

$ – $$  Moderate/Expensive

Included Features

All non-alcoholic drinks, bottled water, sodas and specialty coffees.

Itineraries

The Windstar Cruises’ fleet spends a lot of time in the Caribbean and Mediterranean on 7-night sailings, plus hits many other regions of the world as well. For the 2020 European program, Windstar will operate 116 departures and 80 itineraries with returns after several years absence to Ashdod and Haifa for Israel; Alexandria and Port Said for Egypt including Cairo and the Pyramids; and Istanbul with an overnight stay.

  • Three or four of the six ships spend winters in the Caribbean doing mostly 7-night sailings out of Puerto Rico, Barbados and St. Martin.
  • Two ships spend the winter doing 7-night Costa Rica cruises with a Panama Canal transit. Mexico is another destination.
  • In late 2017, the line returned to Asia for the winter with the STAR LEGEND doing mostly 10- to 14-night sailings in the region.
  • WIND SPIRIT resides in French Polynesia year-round doing mostly 7-night sailings round-trip from Papeete, and a handful of longer sailings that also include calls to the dreamy lagoons at Takapoto and Tiputa, Rangiroa.
  • Summers, five of the six ships undertake 7- to 11-night sailings in the Greek Isles, along the Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese coasts, and in northern Europe to Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland and the Baltic countries. Alaska again is part of the summer program along with New England and Canada. The newly overhauled STAR BREEZE will offer 22 Alaska itineraries beginning in 2020 that include Prince William Sound with a call at Valdez and a cruise into College Fjord where five tidewater glaciers are found as well as Hubbard Glacier on the slopes of the St. Elias Mountains.
  • Note: Six new itineraries in 2020-2021 lasting 12-15 days aboard the newly refitted STAR BREEZE will explore Australia and New Zealand such as Cairns to Melbourne and Auckland at the top of the North Island and along he coast of the South Island.
When to Go?

The fleet cruises different regions of the world in the optimum months.

The cabins on WInd Star, Spirit & Surf are compact but offer everything you'll need. * Photo: Roger Paperno

The cabins on WInd Star, Spirit & Surf are compact but offer everything you’ll need. * Photo: Roger Paperno

Cabins

WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT/WIND SURF’s standard cabins are 188 square feet with a nautical flair, while the all-suite STAR PRIDE/STAR BREEZE/STAR LEGEND standard suites are 277 square feet with an elegant posh-hotel feel, thanks to a walk-in closet, sitting area with sofa, desk and marble bathroom with double sinks and both a shower and tub.

Cabins on all six Windstar Cruises’ ships come stocked with L’Occitane bath amenities, bathrobes, slippers, fresh fruit, flat screen TVs with DVD players, wifi access, room service and mini-bars. Suites have additional amenities, and the largest living space on STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND is the 575-square-foot owner’s suite with a separate dining and living room area; the WIND SURF’S 495-square-foot Bridge Suite is it’s top accommodation. None have inside cabins.

About one-third of the suites on STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND have French balconies (sliding glass doors opening up to a small ledge) and no cabins have balconies on WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT/WIND SURF.

Marble-clad bathrooms on Star Pride. * Photo: Chrissy Colon

Marble-clad bathrooms on Star Pride. * Photo: Chrissy Colon

Public Rooms

The STAR PRIDE/STAR BREEZE/STAR LEGEND are mini cruise ships and much of their public space is indoors, while life on the WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT/WIND SURF is focused more on the expansive outdoor teak deck space with its inviting bar, pool and hot tub, and lots of seating. The outside decks on the STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND trio also sport a nice bar with great sea views. Otherwise due to the annoying configuration of the wide smoke stacks in the middle of things, the pool is in the shade much of the time and there isn’t the feel of wide open outdoor space like there is on Windstar’s sailing ships.

The interiors on STAR PRIDE/STAR SPIRIT/STAR LEGEND, on the other hand, feel spacious. There are two lounges, two bars and two restaurants (one with indoor and outdoor seating), plus a small casino, library, boutique, spa, and gym, plus a three-level atrium in the middle of it all.

The WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT/WIND SURF also have multiple restaurants, an indoor lounge and bar, tiny boutique and library, slip of a casino, plus a gym and spa (both of which are larger on WIND SURF).

Dining

Mealtime is a big part of the Windstar Cruises experience, with each of the ships having two, three or four dining venues, including at least one with outdoor seating so diners can soak up the sun or starry nights. The WIND SURF has four restaurants, including a formal venue serving continental, a modern French bistro, a poolside grill for steaks and grilled skewers, and a casual buffet restaurant for breakfast and lunch.

The WIND STAR and WIND SPIRIT and STAR PRIDE/STAR BREEZE/STAR LEGEND have a main formal restaurant (though jackets aren’t required, passengers dress smartly and some men wear jackets anyway) for multi-course fine dining with a continental menu and the more casual indoor/outdoor buffet venue called The Veranda at the stern that’s transformed into the a la carte Candles restaurant for dinner. Dining out on the deck facing the ship’s wake is a lovely experience.

Elegant Amphora Restaurant, this one on Wind Star. * Photo: Roger Paperno

Elegant Amphora Restaurant, this one on Wind Star. * Photo: Roger Paperno

Activities & Entertainment

On some cruises, usually longer itineraries with multiple sea days and cruises with a notable feature (i.e., the Panama Canal), an expert lecturer talks about the destinations. On occasion, a movie is screened in the lounge (STAR BREEZE and STAR LEGEND have a dedicated movie room). The fleet has an open bridge policy, so weather-permitting you are free to wander in and have a chat with the officer on duty, and perhaps the captain.

All six have gyms (and they’re small on WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT) and spas (one room on WIND STAR/WIND SPIRIT), plus outdoor pools and one or two hot tubs. Sea days on the Windstar sailing yachts are meant to be spent sunbathing and relaxing on deck while taking in the majestic beauty of the masted ships. If anchored in calm seas, all six have watersports platforms for easy access to swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing and other water fun right from the ship and all free of charge.

Before and after dinner, passengers enjoy drinks and the company of their shipmates, plus live music from a pianist or singing duo in one of the lounges. Usually once per cruise local performers come on board for a few hours to entertain guests with folkloric dance or other cultural traditional entertainment. In port once per cruise, there is a complimentary special experience, the likes of a wine tasting and traditional lunch in Sicily or in Ephesus, a private dinner under the stars at the stunning ruins of the Celsus Library.

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream Yacht Club is a blend of Windstar’s sailing ships (where life is lived outdoors on deck) and ex-Seabourn ships (mini cruise ships without sails).

Contact

Windstar Cruises, 2101 4th Avenue Suite 210, Seattle, WA 98121; www.windstarcruises.com, 888-216-9373

— HMS

 

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five types of small ship cruises

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

 

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

Coastal Ships

Coastal small ship cruises

Safari Voyage. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

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

 

 

 

Expedition Ships

Expedition small ship cruises

The Stella Australis. * Photo: Australis

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

 

 

 

 

Oceangoing Ships

Star Pride. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

River Vessels

River going small ship cruises

The River Empress * Photo: Heidi Sarna

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

 

 

 

 

Sailing Ships

Sailing small ship cruises

Sagitta * Photo: Island Windjammers

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Articles About Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Q&A with Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises' Mark Spillane
Q&A with Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises' Mark Spillane By Anne Kalosh. Quirkycruise.com spoke with Mark Spillane, Manager, Sales & Marketing, ...
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quirky-cruise-naturalists-on-small-ship-cruises-dr-birute-mary-galdikas-with-orangutans-at-camp-leakey
By Anne Kalosh. Getting up close to nature and wildlife is one of the many thrills of small ship cruising ...
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quirky-cruise-new-expedition-yacht-crystal-endeavor-photo-of-crystal-endeavor-ship
By Anne Kalosh. Expedition yacht CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR will have the same luxury standard and many of the restaurants and lounges ...
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New Generation Expedition Ships
By Sasha Wodtke, Heidi Sarna & Ted Scull. 20 Next Generation Expedition Ships in the Pipeline for 2018-2020 In recent ...
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Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Since it was founded in 1990, Crystal Cruises has been a beloved high-end line, with ships in the 800- to 1,000-passenger range, twice the size of the ships of near-peers Silversea, Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas. Crystal’s strength has always been their wide scope of dining choices (with Asian and Italian specialty restaurants before everyone else jumped on that boat) and activities (offering onboard computer workshops before such things were popular). They have also always excelled in their lecture program, with most cruises featuring numerous experts giving talks about the destination as well as other topics. Now with its Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises brand,  Crystal is taking what it does best and adapting it to a small upscale expedition-style ship called CRYSTAL ESPRIT, the focus of this review. It was built in 1989 and then purchased by Star Cruises in 1994 and known as the MEGASTAR TAURUS (a private vessel for Star’s parent company Genting’s high-roller casino clients) until its recent conversion to ESPRIT.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

The 62-passenger Crystal Esprit. * Photo: Crystal

In mid 2015, Crystal was bought by Genting Hong Kong and soon after in a series of announcements outlined a new chapter for the company, an aggressive expansion program that months later was watered down. Currently, the new offerings include the 62-passenger expedition-style ESPRIT, which debuted in the Seychelles in December 2015, and for now three river “yachts,” including a pair of brand new vessels that launched in 2017: the 110-passenger CRYSTAL BACH and CRYSTAL MAHLER to cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers (two more new river yachts are planned for 2018 and another pair at an unspecified date). The 158-passenger CRYSTAL MOZART river yacht (a 1987-built ship formerly operated by Peter Deilmann and TUI Cruises) debuted for Crystal in Europe in July 2016. Click here for more details on Crystal River Cruises.

To join the ESPRIT, Crystal launched the 200-passenger CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR in the summer of 2019.  Down the road, Crystal wants to build a trio of new 1,000-passenger luxury ships to sail in polar regions; they’ve changed their target date several times, and are currently shooting for a 2022 launch.

New Generation Expedition Ships

Rendering of the 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor. * Rendering: Crystal Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

CRYSTAL ESPRIT (built 1989 & 62 passengers); CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR (b. 2019 & 200 p)

Passenger Profile

Well-to-do couples 40s on up, with some senior singles and families during summers and holidays, from North America mainly, plus a sprinkling from the UK, Europe and Asia. Many have cruised on Crystal’s larger ships.

Passenger Decks

4 (no elevators)

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Just about everything — wine, spirits, soft drinks, tips, watersports, one excursion in every port, WiFi (an hour a day), self-serve laundry, butler service, and 24-hour in-room dining from the restaurant menu.

Itineraries

Winters, 7-night Seychelles Islands round-trip from Mahe, Seychelles, calling on St. Anne Island; La Passe, la Digue Island; Baie Ste. Anne, Praslin Island; Laraie Bay, Curieuse Island; Anse Saint Jose, Curieuse Island; Cousin Island; Aride Island; Big Sister Island; and Desroches Island. These cruises are packaged with a 2-night hotel stay in Dubai before the cruise.

  • Spring, Summer and Fall, 7-night Adriatic Sea between or round-trip from mostly Venice, Dubrovnik and/or Athens, with various combinations of ports that may include Rovinj, Sibenik, Trogir, Vis, Hvar, Split, Zadar, Opatija, and Korcula, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Piran, Slovenia; and Corfu, Parga, Itea, Hydra, and Navplion, Greece. Each of the 7-night cruises can be combined with the following one to create a 14-night cruise without repeating ports.
  • December, 9-, 10- and 11-night Middle East round-trip from Dubai, calling on Khasab and Muscat, Oman; Doha, Qatar; and Sir Bani Yas Island and Abu Dhabi, UAB.
  • CRYSTAL ENDEAVOUR entered service in mid-summer 2019 with initial expedition cruises in Japan and the Russian Far East, Indonesia, Borneo, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, including the Ross Sea, and Antarctica from Ushuaia where it will operate will the highest ice classification for an expedition cruise vessel. In August 2021, the ship will undertake a 28-night westward voyage via the Northeast Passage. The new ship’s amenities include two helicopters and two 7-passenger submarines.
When to Go?

ESPRIT does its Europe cruises in the summer and the Middle East/Africa itineraries in the winter months.

Cabins

Most of the rooms on the all-suite ship are 280-square-foot Yacht Suites with a queen-size bed, small sitting area with a sofa bed (can be used for a third passenger), full-height hanging closet, and very nice bathrooms with double sinks, rain showers and natural stone flooring. The single 515-sq. ft owner’s suite has a separate dining room with four-seat dining table. None of the suites have balconies and none are wheelchair accessible. There are two self-service laundry rooms.

Public Rooms

The Cove Lounge is the yacht’s main entertainment spot, where you can watch a movie or live sporting event by day, and in the evening enjoy a drink while a piano player/singer provides background music. There’s a mini casino and the lovely outdoor Sunset Bar on Deck 5 speaks for itself. There’s a small pool and two hot tubs on Deck 5, as well as a steam room, sauna and a small gym with a treadmill, exercise bike, elliptical machines, Kinesis machines and free weights. You’ll find a micro spa/salon on Deck 3.

Crystal Yacht Cruises

Crystal Endeavour’s solarium transforms into an evening dining venue. * Photo: Crystal Yacht Cruises

Dining

Four venues include The Yacht Club restaurant, which is the ship’s main dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner; menus incorporate local ingredients in many dishes. It has large windows and a chic color scheme of steel greys and sharp blues, and tables are set with Riedel crystal, fine china and French linens. Seating is open and there are lots of tables for two. The adjacent outdoor Patio Café at the stern offers great views and waiter-served light meals at breakfast and lunch, when you can choose from interesting salads, cold cuts, cheese and pastries. On Deck 5 near the pool during the day,The Grill offers burgers, wraps and international “street food” reflecting the itinerary. The Compass Room is a small reservations-only specialty dining venue for wine and food pairings, ideal for private parties. Grazers can always stop by the Pantry, a self-serve pit stop on Deck 2 open 24 hours a day with light food and drinks.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

The Esprit’s open seating Yacht Club Restaurant. * Photo: Crystal

Activities & Entertainment

An ESPRIT cruise is meant to be active and adventurous (note, there are no elevators on the ship), with adult toys including a two-passenger submarine, four 10-passenger zodiacs for special excursions, and a 12-passenger Wider 32-foot yacht tender for special boating adventures (all complimentary except for sub).  Watersports equipment is carried on board and easily accessible from the stern marina, from water skis to wake boards, kayaks, jet skis, fishing, and snorkel equipment. There are also a few bicycles passengers can use in port. On the cerebral side, on some cruises destination experts will be on board to present talks. Evenings, it’s drinks and chat with fellow guests.

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Crystal Espirit’s stern marina for watersports and Zodiac access. * Photo: Crystal

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream Yacht Club.

Contact

Crystal Cruises, 11755 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 900, Los Angeles, CA 90025; 1-310-785-9300 or www.crystalyachtcruises.com.

— HMS

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Articles About Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises

HANSEATIC Inspiration cruises Antarctica. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

HANSEATIC Inspiration cruises Antarctica. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

N.B. HANSEATIC INSPIRATION will resume sailings for the English and German-speaking markets when the ship departs from Hamburg on September 7, 2020 on a cruise to Greenland. The following few sailings will feature Western European and Mediterranean ports. The ship will sail at 60% of capacity and will have a full day in port to undergo a thorough cleansing. Before that, the initial sailings ex-Hamburg mostly will be offered only to Germans, Austrians and Swiss.

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Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises traces its origins back to the 19th century when two German firms — Hamburg-American and North German Lloyd — entered the passenger trade, competing largely on the North Atlantic and then spreading their routes to other parts of the world. Later they merged, and today the passenger cruise business is owned by the TUI Group that operates the top-rated, medium-size cruise ships, EUROPA (built 1999 & 400 passengers) and EUROPA 2 (b. 2013 & 500 p), the latter offering guaranteed English-speaking cruises; and a pair of expedition vessels: BREMEN (b.1990 & 155 p) and HANSEATIC (b. 1991 & 175 p), the latter now sold with a trio of high-tech expeditions ships coming on line. The BREMEN may offer some bilingual cruises from time to time and is also chartered by English-speaking affinity groups.

N.B. In late July, Hapag-Lloyd announced that its BREMEN, a long-serving member of the fleet since 1993, will not return to service. There was no mention about the sale to Scylla scheduled for 2021, whether it will be advance or not.

N.B. A trio of high-tech expedition ships with 120 passenger cabins and suites have the first in service and two under construction: HANSEATIC NATURE entered service in May 2019 for German-speaking passengers, HANSEATIC INSPIRATION (October 2019) for both German- and English-speaking passengers), and HANSEATIC SPIRIT (adults only) for delivery in Spring 2021. The 15,650-ton ships are being built in Norway’s VARD shipyard.  Passenger capacity will be limited to 199 for Antarctic and Spitsbergen (circumnavigation) cruises. Additional details will be available on QuirkyCruise.com as the first delivery gets closer but it is safe to say that this class will be 5 Star in accommodations, amenities, expedition gear and ice classification.

Hapag Lloyd Expedition Cruises

Bar Observation Lounge. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

Passengers

While Hapag-Lloyd is a German company, drawing mainly German-speaking passengers, selected bilingual cruises are set aside for English-speaking passengers with guaranteed departures. That means that all documentation, handbooks, programs, announcements, menus, lectures and safety drills will be in English. Shore excursions are arranged separately. Any other international cruises that attract at least 15 English-speaking passengers will automatically become bilingual as the aforesaid  Those cruises will be featured here, and expect German-speaking passengers in varying numbers and often in the majority.

Passenger Decks

7 decks and lifts serve all levels except the Sun Deck, the highest and with a small outdoor area.

Price

$$$

Included features

Expeditions ashore in Zodiacs (14) and tenders; parkas, rubber boots, snorkeling gear, Nordic walking poles and bicycles, depending on the itinerary; staff gratuities; sending & receiving e-mails up to 1MB; minibar with soft drinks replenished daily; a bottle of Champagne upon arrival.

Itineraries

A full winter program of Antarctica cruises include the Falklands, South Georgia, South Shetland and South Orkney Islands, Weddell Sea, and the Antarctic Peninsula. The large number of Zodiacs carried means that everyone can be on an excursion at one time, and not waiting aboard for a second or third rotation as with larger capacity ships. Highlights are the varieties of penguins, incredible numbers of birds (especially at South Georgia), whales, walrus, seals; Zodiac excursions to get close to beautiful ice formations and glaciers, a former whaling station, and connections to the Ernest Shackleton expedition.

Pre-Antarctic season, a Pacific cruise begins in Tahiti and calls at numerous islands, remote and virtually unknown, and justly famous such as Pitcairn (Mutiny on the Bounty), Easter Island (stone statues) and Robinson Crusoe Island (inspiration for the fictional character) and onto Puerto Montt at the north end of the Chilean fjords.

Post-Antarctic season, one cruise makes a nearly complete West Coast of South America voyage from near the southern tip at Patagonia and sails northward past glaciers, into the Chilean fjords, calls at Valparaiso, the lovely port for the capital Santiago then onto Peru and Ecuador.

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Amazon journey begins way up river at Iquitos (Peru, and headwaters of navigation for ocean-going ships) and travels 2,500 miles (4,000 kms) to the mouth at Belem. Zodiacs take you to remote Indian tribes who live along the riverbanks and to tropical fruit and vegetable markets, cruise for pink river dolphins, make explorations into tributaries penetrating the world’s largest rain forest, filled with flowers and exotic birds. At the meeting of the waters where the Rio Negro joins the Amazon sits Manaus, the largest city on the river and boasting an opera house, built during the rubber boom period. The Amazon then widens considerably as it reaches the delta and spreads out into several channels.

From Belem on the northeast Brazilian coast, the itinerary explores the Orinoco, offers a flight to Angel Falls, calls at off-shore islands, a UNESCO site, national parks for bird life, sloths, and monkeys, a research station, examples of Spanish colonialism, San Blas Indians, views of the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal, and finishes at Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.

HANSEATIC in the Amazon basin. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

 

 

Spitsbergen (Svalbard), a circumnavigation cruise, is a large archipelago tied politically to Norway, two days by sea north of the North Cape and well above the Arctic Circle. The expedition embarks at Longyearbyen, the capital with an excellent museum, and goes in search of polar bears that often come to the shore, well within camera range, plus whales, walrus, Arctic foxes, birds, fantastic cliff formations, ventures into fjords, up close to glaciers and makes Zodiac landings where it safe from polar bears. The final couple of days visit the North Cape with disembarkation at Tromso, Norway’s largest community above the Arctic Circle.

Svalbard: Polar bears feeding on a whale carcass. * Photo: Ted Scull

Svalbard: Polar bears feeding on a whale carcass. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Northeast Passage, less frequented than the Northwest Passage, follows an Arctic route from Northern Europe eastward across the top of Siberian Russia, Kamchatka and Kuril Islands to Japan.

FUTURE ITINERARIES include an unusual circumnavigation of Iceland embarking and disembarking at Reykjavik and visiting nine locations – islands, volcanoes, fjords, fishing villages, bird inhabited cliffs, waterfalls; the west coast of Greenland with its colorful villages, early Viking settlements, ice fjords, and at sea, humpback and fin whales, then onto Labrador for breathtaking scenery such as spectacular rock formations, Inuit culture artifacts, traditional fishing villages and fjords; coastal southern Africa with two port calls in Namibia revealing architecture from the former German colonial rule and six ports in South Africa including Cape Town and Durban and access to the lovely Garden Route, beautiful beaches, and game parks for the homes of the “Big Five.”

Why Go?

There is a wonderful world out there, and the destinations outlined here can only be comprehensively done by ship.

When to Go?

The expedition cruises are scheduled for the best seasons such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter and the Arctic Regions in summer.

Cabins

HANSEATIC Nature/Inspiration/Spirit: All outside cabins and most with balconies or French balconies; separable beds; equipped with binoculars, Nordic Walking sticks, coffee machine, minibar (free), and heated bathroom for drying towels and parkas.

Hapag Lloyd Expedition Cruises

HANSEATIC Inspiration – French balcony cabin. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

Public Rooms

The principal spaces are the Observation Lounge with bar and adjacent library, with 180-degree views, Explorer Lounge with bar and a dance floor for presentations and occasional musical entertainment.

Dining

The restaurant is the main dining area for all meals (excellent menu selections including Continental as well as German specialties) seats everyone at one assigned sitting at dinner, with open seating for breakfast and lunch. Americans like open seating and Germans like fixed, so this is the fair compromise. Buffets-style meals take place in the informal café and tables are available just outside in good weather. Barbeques and themed dinners here require reservations, but entail no extra charge. Tea time is a daily ritual.

Activities & Entertainment

There are film presentations and lectures in preparation for the landings, plus you’ll find a sauna steam bath, fitness room, whirlpool and small swimming pool. Some Germans like a dip in the winter. Snorkeling and cycling is on offer when appropriate.

The Hanseatic at anchor in Antarctica. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes: Helicopter pad. Hull is given the highest passenger classification – E-4.

Along the Same Lines

The passenger mix is unusual, as most high-end expedition lines draw mainly English-speaking passengers, unless the line is entirely focused on a European language.

Contact

Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises, C/O Kartagener Associates Inc., 14 Penn Plaza, Suite 2223, New York, NY 10122; www.Hl-cruises.com, 877-445-7447 or 800-334-2724 (USA/Canada); Free Phone United Kingdom: 08000 513829. — TWS

Ponant Explorers

Ponant ExplorersThe French-flag Ponant, a small-ship cruise line, is on a major expansion kick with an order for an innovative quartet of PONANT EXPLORERS, 92-cabin ships for use on worldwide itineraries in hot, subtropical and cold climates. Besides having a certified IC (Ice Class) hull for cruising the polar regions, the ships will have a multi-sensorial underwater lounge, more about which will be revealed in May 2017. Stay tuned!

The first building block was laid on February 22nd of this year at the Norwegian Vard shipyard for Lapérouse, while Le Champlain followed on March 1st with projected deliveries in summer 2018. Le Bougainville and Le Dumont d’Urville will appear a year later.

Ponant was founded in 1988 by a dozen French Merchant Navy officers with the then mouthful title of Compagnie des Iles du Ponant, then gradually shorted to Compagnie du Ponant and now simply Ponant. The first ship was Le Ponant, a motor sailer, followed by a succession of five increasingly sophisticated ships.

Click here for more about Ponant.

— Ted Scull

small ship cruises copyright

small ship cruises Swan Hellenic
small ship cruises Swan Hellenic

The beloved Minerva. * Photo: Ted Scull

All Leisure Group, a UK firm that operates Swan Hellenic and its sole ship MINERVA ceased operations in early January. The firm started cultural cruises in the Mediterranean in 1954 was known for its superb lecture program, creative itineraries, and with the MINERVA, its country-house hotel atmosphere, drew mainly British passengers.

G Adventures, an expedition company, has taken on the brand but not the ship. The firm intends to operate a smaller vessel of under 200 passengers, and while keeping the educational lecture program, the experience will be a more active one, using Zodiacs for exploring, and presumably attempting to attract a broader age range. The line will re-emerge in 2018, and loyal Swans will be watching what the new owners have wrought out of this venerable old firm.

TWS

small ship cruises copyright

QuirkyCruise reader review

Reviewer: Chrissy from New York.

Cruise Line: Windstar Cruises.

Ship: Star Pride.

Destination: Vietnam.

# of Nights: 10.

Departure Date & Ports: January 2015, from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, visiting Halong Bay, Hanoi and Da Nang.

OVERALL RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before? I’ve been on 5 small ship cruises.

Review: Best Little Ship on the High Seas

My initial impression that bigger is better was quickly dispelled almost the moment I came aboard. The difference felt like going from a shopping mall to a yacht. The VIP reception, champagne welcome, dancers, back rubs and authentic music, set the stage for what would be the most spectacular small ship experience to date. The ports of call made me chuckle at my former self thinking the Caribbean had everything I could ever want in a cruise destination. The mesmerizing spectacular cultural and natural beauty of Southeast Asia was jaw-dropping and inspiring. As a veteran traveler, this was nothing new, but the small ship difference was that coming back to the ship allowed me to appreciate all the beauty of Asia without the logistical hurdles and cultural frustrations of land-based travel. It also provided a serenity and calm experience entirely lacking on large ships.

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

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small ship cruises with Seadream

SeaDream Yacht Club

by Heidi Sarna.

While I am partial to all kinds of small ship cruises, one of my favorites is SeaDream Yacht Club and its twin 112-passenger SeaDream I and SeaDream II. The duo spend most of their time in the warm climes of the Caribbean and Mediterranean, with occasional seasons elsewhere. I’ve cruised with them twice, once round-trip from San Juan to St. Barts and St. John some years ago, and another time more recently, in Southeast Asia from Singapore to Bali.

Here’s why I love this line and why you might too.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

Visiting Bonifacio, southern Corsica, Italy. The SeaDream twins can dock where the biggies can’t. * Photo: SeaDream

1. Casual but still elegant. It’s nice to be around people who care about how they look, but not that much. SeaDream’s clientele make the effort to get out of their flip flops and safari pants (you know, the ones with zippers that can be transformed into shorts) and dress up a bit for dinner without going overboard. Ladies wear flowy dresses or pants, and men, smart trousers or jeans with nice shirts and maybe a brightly colored sports jacket, though they’re not required. It certainly isn’t impossible to pack everything you’ll need in a carry-on!

2. Champagne & caviar beach party. One of the highlights of a SeaDream cruise is the line’s signature beach party held along a remote stretch of sand and surf on every voyage. Passengers in their bathing suits easily morph into their younger carefree selves to enjoy champagne in plastic flutes from smiling waiters wading through the water with trays. Giggling merry makers hover around crew serving dollops of caviar from a silver bowl atop a floating surfboard. It’s a silly and wonderfully indulgent romp in the surf.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

The highlight of the week, champagne and caviar in the surf! * Photo: SeaDream

3. Water sports. The ships’ mini stern marina gives easy access to kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding, banana boating and swimming when at anchor in some ports. There is also a pair of wave runners to use. You’re often able to hop in the water right from the marina, or if not, the crew will set up the water toys on a nearby beach. For landlubbers, a fleet of mountain bikes is carried on board for use in some ports.

Oceangoing

4. Open bar. No need to sign chits all day long, SeaDream is all inclusive. Sip a Prosecco or sauv blanc, or “buy” a round for new friends whenever the mood strikes. It fosters a carefree environment and makes you feel like you’re on a rich uncle’s yacht and not a commercial cruise.

Fares are all-inclusive. Drink up! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

5. Polished staff. The gracious, hardworking crew of 95 strikes the perfect balance between being friendly, chatty and at your beck and call, while not being cloying or obsequious. On my SeaDream cruises, the handsome ex-model waiters were as smooth and skilled as you would encounter in five-star hotels in Europe.

6. The other passengers. Worldly and well-travelled, yet unpretentious, SeaDream cruisers tend to be people who appreciate adventure and off-the-grid experiences as well as good food, wine and service. Most are couples in their 40s to 70s, so there’s a nice wide range of people to meet and mingle with.

7. Classic decor with lots of wood. I don’t know about you, but I’m over the generic St. Regis brand of marble and brocade luxury and prefer the SeaDream yachts’ nautical flair; they look like ships with the generous use of real wood and brass fittings, from the decks to the cabins, furniture, doors and bar tops.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

The ships’ al fresco watering hole. * Photo: SeaDream

8. Lunch buffets. The food is good at every meal, but I particularly enjoyed the lunch buffets up on deck enjoying the views and the fresh sea air. On my SeaDream cruise in Asia, I gravitated toward the heaps of chilled shrimp, and various healthy salads and fruit, plus the option to try one of the featured dishes from the ala carte menu, like a yummy Pad Thai noodles or steamed dim sum dumplings.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

Delicious food, especially the lunches. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

9. Open decks. To me, the point of a cruise is to be out on deck enjoying the wind in your hair and the water all around you. The ships’ comfy futon-style sun bed loungers up top are a great place to catch some rays and chill out (though depending how the wind is blowing, the ash from the nearby funnel may rain on your parade). Nearby, the open-air Top of the Yacht Bar is an appealing spot for drinks all day and into the evening; after dinner some folks head up there to dance to the bartenders’ favorite playlist and enjoy nightcaps under the stars.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

Feels like your rich uncle’s private yacht. * Photo: Chrissy Colon

10. Pool & hot tub. Many small ships don’t have the space, but the SeaDream duo each have a hot tub and a small deep pool on the open stern deck. They’re excellent places to soak, especially in the late afternoon and early evening hours as the sun begins to set and a glass of bubbly seams most apropos.

small ship cruises with Seadream

Relaxing by the pool with stunning views. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

11. Spa & gym. Though the ships carry just 112 passengers, they still make room for an impressive little spa with five treatment rooms and an ocean-view gym with treadmills, weights and more.

12. The cabins. The identical 195-square-foot cabins are smart and comfortable, and not over done with veneers and fussy fabrics. The rooms are bright with a large window, blond wood panelling, sitting area and long wooden credenza where the electronics and mini-bar reside. The bedding is plush and the bathrooms with showers are small, but efficiently designed, as you’d expect from a yacht.

small ship cruises with SeaDream

Cabins = simple beauty. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The SeaDream ships may be more than 30 years old, but they’re well maintained and appealing all the more for their classic lines and solid build. They’re not super over-the-top-luxurious and neither are they cerebral (expert lectures are rarely offered), SeaDream excels at offering a high-end island-hopping party on a yacht. Sunbathing, watersports and drinks on deck are most people’s main focus when they’re not off exploring some sexy port the likes of Jost Van Dyke and Saint John in the Caribbean, or Monte Carlo and Saint-Tropez in the Med.

➢➢ Read about SeaDream’s brand new build, the SeaDream Innovation to debut in Sept 2021.

 

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St Helena's life just extended! * Photo: Bruce Heard

St Helena’s life again extended! * Photo: Bruce Heard

The world’s last true Royal Mail Service by sea, from Cape Town to the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena, was due to be withdrawn in July 2016 following completion of the island’s first airport. However, due to severe wind shear problems at the brand-new runway, the planned weekly commercial air service from Johannesburg to St. Helena has been delayed, and at present no official starting date has been announced. In the meantime, one-off flights are occasionally landing at the island.

So if you have an interest in sailing to one of the most remote places on earth, then have a look at our St. Helena Line Ship & Line Review as there are details of the now even further extended schedule through to February 2018. The 156-passenger and cargo ship RMS St. Helena leaves Cape Town for a five-day sail to St. Helena where passengers disembark for an six-day stay on the island while the ship unloads its cargo, continues to Ascension Island some 800 miles away, picks up passengers and cargo and returns to St. Helena for the return southbound voyage to Cape Town. The complete round voyage takes 16 days.

The ship is a delightful throwback to the traditional way many people once traveled and the rugged, remote island destination is utterly beautiful and unspoiled.

Submit a comment or question below, and having made this trip, I shall endeavor to provide an answer.

TWS

QC copyright

Mahabaahu on Brahmaputra River

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

Darien, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull

Darien, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull

Snapshot

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

Price

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

Itineraries – A Sampling as itineraries changes from year to year

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

See the following website to answer questions that allow US citizens to travel to Cuba with International Expeditions: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba_faqs_new.pdf

Internatioal Expeditions

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

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

Upper Amazon, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

Upper Amazon, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

EVOLUTION Cabin 6. * Photo: Unkown

EVOLUTION Cabin 6. * Photo: Unknown

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

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

Diccovery, Panama. * Photo: Unknown

Discovery, Panama. * Photo: Unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Ships Used in the Above Itineraries

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

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

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

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

small ship India cruises

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

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

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

SEPIK SPIRIT. * Photo: Unknown

SEPIK SPIRIT. * Photo: Unknown

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

— TWS

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