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Avalon Waterways

Avalon entered the fast-growing river cruise market in 2004 and is owned by the Swiss-based Globus family of brands that also includes Cosmos. The line aims for the upper end of the river cruise market and is adding new ships with suite features that are unique to the line. Avalon operates a large number of riverboats on a vast range of European itineraries (nearly three dozen) as well as relatively new programs in the Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon, the Mekong, the Irrawaddy (not 2019),  Ganges (began 2019) and the Nile (2020).

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Visionary on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

European Rivers
Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

AVALON IMAGERY II (built 2016 & 128 passengers); AVALON PASSION (b. 2016 & 166p); AVALON TAPESTRY II & AVALON TRANQUILITY II (b. 2015 & 128 p); AVALON IMPRESSION (b. 2014 & 166p); AVALON POETRY II (b. 2014 & 128 p); AVALON ARTISTRY II (b. 2013 & 128 p); AVALON VISTA (b. 2012 & 166p); AVALON VISIONARY (b. 2012 & 128 p); AVALON LUMINARY & AVALON FELICITY (b. 2010 & 138 p); AVALON PANORAMA (b. 2011 & 166p); AVALON AFFINITY (b. 2009 & 138p); AVALON CREATIVITY( b. 2009 & 128p) and AVALON SCENERY (b. 2008 & 216 p). An addition to the fleet in 2019 will be AVALON ENVISION (b. 2019 & 166 passengers).

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Artistry II on the Rhine. * Photo: Avalon

Passenger Profile

Most, age 50 and above, hail from the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia with some younger passengers on the shorter itineraries.

Passenger Decks

All riverboats have four decks, and an elevator connects the two main cabin and public room decks.

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

Most shore excursions, WiFi (including in cabins), minibar with bottled water, regional wines and beers with dinner, sparkling wine at breakfast, coffees, teas and hot chocolate throughout the day, cabin TV with English-speaking channels and 100 movie options.

Itineraries

The huge variety offers cruise tours lasting from 5 to 22 nights, generally adding a land portion at one or both ends of the river cruise. Land travel may be by high-speed train such as TGV, Thalys, and Eurostar or coach.

Springtime tulip bulb season cruises along the intricate waterways of Belgium and Holland; French rivers include the Seine, Rhone and Soane; the Rhine with or without the Moselle; combine the Rhine and Rhone between Amsterdam and Cote D’Azur; the Upper and/or Lower Danube, the latter including, on some cruises, sailing all the way to the Danube Delta just in from the Black Sea.

Longer itineraries may cover, for instance, the Upper Rhine and then via the Main, Main-Danube Canal and the Danube all the way to Vienna; with the granddaddy of all from the North Sea to the Black Sea (22 nights).

Avalon Waterways

The Avalon Expression on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon

Why Go?

River cruising conveniently takes you in one conveyance to a vast array of cultural, historic and scenic sites with so many of Europe’s major capitals (Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade) and most picturesque towns growing up along the banks.

When to Go?

Most cruises operate from April through October, while some begin in March and end in November. Christmas markets cruises have increasing appeal.

Cabins

All riverboats, except the five built between 2008 and 2010, are designated Avalon Suite Ships and come with larger cabins and substantially different configuration – for example the 200 sq. ft. Panorama Suites and 300 sq. ft. Royal Suites in which the beds face a large 11-foot glass expanse that slides open to the outside railing, rather than arranging the beds, as most do, parallel to the windows. The sensation gives your entire cabin a feeling of a cozy, protected balcony with a clear view to the outside. The remaining five boats offer four 258 sq. ft. Royal Suites with a similar layout but where the TV interrupts the continuous glass window, and 172 sq. ft. Avalon Deluxe Suites. All Indigo Deck (lowest) deck cabins have small rectangular windows set high in the wall as they are located just above the waterline.

A 200 square-foot Panorama Suite. * Avalon Waterways

Public Rooms

All riverboats share a forward Observation Lounge, forward Panorama Lounge and bar, aft facing Club Lounge, and main dining room. The Sky Deck is laid out stem to stern with open and covered deck space for lounge chairs, whirlpool, Sky Bistro for light meals and navigation bridge.

Dining

The pattern for meals is pretty much the same throughout the fleet of European riverboats, though the boats built in the last few years have more sophisticated alternative meal set ups. The food is geared for those who would like to branch out and taste regional offerings or stick with what one likes to eat at home.

Breakfast has an open window of times to cater to early risers or those who want to sleep in. Breakfast and lunch are buffet with the latter available at the top deck Sky Bistro (a grill), inside the Panorama Lounge (light fare) or in the big-windowed main dining room.

Dinner is served here as well, while those wanting something lighter than a served three-course, can frequent the Panorama Lounge’s more informal setting.

An Avalon meal on a southeast Asia river cruise. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

Activities & Entertainment

Excursions ashore may be on foot when the dock is convenient to the destination or otherwise via bus. On board entertainment will showcase local musicians and singers after dinner and special interest talks while underway. All vessels have a top deck whirlpool and small fitness centers on the lowest decks. Newish are Active Discovery cruises on the Danube that offer hiking, biking and canoeing and opportunities to explore an ice cave or salt mine and take archery lessons.

Avalon Waterways

Entertainment in the Panorama Lounge of the Avalon Artistry II. * Photo: Avalon

Special Notes

While this high-quality fleet is of basically a similar design, and the itinerary likely the deciding factor, having a bed configuration that allows you to wake up and linger between the sheets while watching the river scene pass above your toes just may dictate an Avalon Suite Ship.

Along the Same Lines

Many other European river cruise lines.

 

Avalon’s cruise tour programs to South America, Asia and Eqypt are briefly outlined below.

GALAPAGOS & AMAZON

Avalon Waterways charters the TREASURE OF GALAPAGOS, a catamaran with accommodations for 18 (b. 2009 and refurbished 2017) for a 4-night Galapagos cruise that adds up to a 8-day cruise-tour with the inclusion of sights in and around Quito, Ecuador. It also does a 12-day cruise tour that adds a 3-night Amazon River lodge stay; a 15-day cruise tour that combines the 4-night Galapagos cruise with a land tour to Cusco and Machu Picchu (Peru) and Quito (Ecuador); and a 20-day cruise tour with the addition of the Amazon River lodge including day cruises on the river.

Treasure of Galapagos, Avalonn Waterways

Avalon Waterways, Treasure of Galapagos

Another option includes a 3-night Amazon River cruise aboard the 44-passenger DELFIN III (formerly AMAZON DISCOVERY; b.2015), which Avalon charters. The ship’s cabins are all outside and consists of staterooms measuring 237 sq. ft. , corner staterooms 253 sq. ft. and the owner’s at 537 sq. ft. Departures are January to July and September to November.

There are also 3-night cruises of the Peruvian Amazon from Iquitos, to look for wildlife in the river and the surrounding rain forest landscapes plus village visits both combined with 11- and 13-day land tours that include Lima, the capital of Peru, Cusco and Machu Picchu and the longest, the Nazca Lines.

Avalon Waterways

The Delfin III, seen here when still called Amazon Discovery. * Photo: Steve Cukrov for Globlus/Avalon.

A selection of 18- and 20-day cruise tours combine the Amazon River cruise with the land destinations in Peru and Ecuador plus a Galapagos cruise. The river boat’s 237- and 253-sq. ft. cabins with huge floor-to-ceiling picture windows are spread over two of the three decks. Beds may be configured as twins or king-size. In addition, there is one single and a 597-sq. ft. suite that faces forward. Public spaces are an indoor and covered outdoor lounge, aft dining room with large view windows, a spa, small gym and plunge pool. A 24-hour medic is aboard. Departures are January-June and September to November.

Avalon Waterways

The silt-laden waters of the Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

EGYPT
The Nile

(Note: Nile cruises begin in 2020).

Avalon Waterways

A camel watches over its territory, the site of the pyramids at Giza. * Photo: Ted Scull

10-day Egyptian cruise tours, operating year-round, include hotel stays in Cairo for the museum and the Pyramids, Sphinx, Memphis and more that bracket a 4-night Nile cruise to Luxor, Karnak, Aswan, Edfu and Kom Ombo. The MS FARAH, built in 2011, provides the cruise. 58 cabins and two suites provide large picture windows, Internet and bathrooms have bathtubs.

INDIA

Ganges River

Avalon Cruise began Ganges River cruises in 2019, operating the 56-passenger GANGES VOYAGER in the cooler months of January and February and September to November. The shortest 13-day cruise-tour begins in New Delhi or Kolkata and includes a 6-night cruise plus hotel stays in Agra for the Taj Mahal and Jaipur. 16-day cruise tours add Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, and 18-days add Mumbai and Kochi (Cochin) but not Kathmandu. The riverboat decorated in colonial-era style has cabins measuring 260, 280, 360, and 400 square feet, offer Indian and western menus and includes beer, wine and soft drinks with meals.

GANGES VOYAGER, Avalonn Cruises

GANGES VOYAGER, Heritage Suite Avalon Cruises

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA & CHINA
Mekong River

The mighty Mekong rises in China and passes through three Southeast Asian countries. * Photo: Ted Scull

Avalon Waterways operates the 2015-built, 36-passenger AVALON SIEM REAP and 2018-built sistership AVALON SAIGON cruising on 7-night voyages between Ho Chi Minh City’s waterfront, Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The riverboats’ 245 sq. ft. cabins, located in two decks, all open to the outside with 14-foot sliding glass doors and windows. A forward-facing covered lounge give a 180-degree and connects to an interior air-conditioned panorama lounge with bar. The aft dining room seats all at once for buffet breakfasts and lunches and served dinners. The menus offer both Asian and western dishes.

The monumental archaeological site at Angkor Wat, Cambodia is often the first stop on a SoutheastAsia/ Mekong River itinerary.* Ted Scull

The monumental archaeological site at Angkor Wat, Cambodia is often the first stop on a SoutheastAsia/ Mekong River itinerary.* Ted Scull

The wide-ranging itineraries, in time and places visited, combine a 7-night cruise with a hotel stay and sightseeing at both ends that can add up to 13- to 21-day cruise tours to include — your choice of  extensions — Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Halong Bay in Vietnam; Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Luang Prabang in Laos; and Bangkok, Thailand. Departures are January to April and July to December.

Myanmar and the Irrawaddy River – N.B. THIS CRUISE IS NOT OPERATING IN 2020.

Avalon operates its own riverboat some 1,300 miles along the Upper Irrawaddy River between Yangon and Bhamo (northern limit if navigation) with a hotel stay in Yangon, Myanmar’s capital adding up to 14 days and an extension to Bangkok that creates a 17-day cruise tour.

The 36-passenger AVALON MYANMAR was completed in 2015 and takes up to 36 passengers. Sights visited along the river are pagodas, Buddhist monasteries, and riverside villages where the local activities produce candy made from palm trees, pottery, and food from adjacent farms. Note: These itineraries operated September-December in 2018, and none are scheduled for 2019.

The well-fitted out riverboat offers 245-sq.ft. Avalon Suites spread over two decks where the twin or king-size beds face a 14-foot-wide wall of glass that opens to a railing and the world outside, similar in layout to many of the line’s European riverboat fleet. A forward open-air covered lounge shares the Mandalay Deck with an adjacent enclosed lounge and an aft dining room. The Sky Deck’s lounge is covered and next to the spa treatment room and gym.

China and the Yangtze River: N.B. THESE CRUISES ARE IS NOT OPERATING IN 2020.

Avalon takes space for up 20 passengers on two Yangtze River vessels that combine a 3- or 4-night, 650-mile cruise between Yichang and Chongqing into 11- and up to 17-day cruise tours that include major sights in China such as Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, and Hong Kong on the longer cruise tours. The 7-deck riverboat CENTURY LEGEND, completed in 2013, handles up to 392 passengers (oops, higher than QC’s 300-pax max!).

To personalize the cruise portion, all meals, apart from the farewell banquet, take place in the Sun Deck VIP restaurant. Meals feature Chinese buffets and a la carte Western dishes. Wine, beer, and soda are complimentary at dinner. Cabins (266 sq. ft.) are all outside with balconies and separate bathtubs and 24-hour access to an Executive Lounge. The boat’s amenities include an indoor swimming pool (unusual feature), library, game room, cinema, and gym.

All land tours are private to Avalon and land extensions do not exceed 20. Itineraries extend from April to October, though some specific tours do not include the searingly hot months of mid-June to mid-August.

Contact

Avalon Waterways, P.O. Box 3219, Highland Park, MI 48203;  Avalonwaterways.com; 877-380-1540

TWS

 

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Captain Cook Cruises

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

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

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

Captain Cook Cruises

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

REEF ENDEAVOUR (built 1996 & 130 passengers).

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

The ship has five decks and an elevator.

Price

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

Itineraries

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

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

Yasawa Island. * Map: Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

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

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

Included features

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

Why Go?

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

— TWS

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G Adventures

For more than 30 years, G Adventures has been offering affordable adventure travel around the world including small-ship cruises (about 10-15% of their total annual business) on private yachts, catamarans and oceangoing expedition-style ships, with more recent offerings on riverboats. They also sell travel by rail, road and air. Their MO is providing small groups with authentic cultural experiences, through local guides, cuisine, and transport and uncontrived excursions. The target skews younger — 20s to 50s — than most other travel companies; though any age will be comfortable if they’ve got a young-at-heart attitude and a decent level of fitness.

A trained, local CEO, or Chief Experience Officer, guides all trips and acts as the point person to make sure things run smoothly. (On the G EXPEDITION ship, there are additional expert guides in various disciplines). The emphasis is on active exploring, using bicycles for example, and on supporting local businesses and communities (i.e. through visits to schools and charity-supported restaurants in Cambodia).

To keep rates reasonable on the various sailing trips, meals are not included, instead the skipper collects a modest amount of money from passengers who want to share a simple breakfast and lunch on board (skipper goes grocery shopping for the basics); for dinner, it’s expected that passengers will want to eat dinner in port on the islands (who wouldn’t want to!). A BYOB policy (bring your own booze) is in effect on board most of the Europe-based sailing and river cruises. The line matches same sex passengers to avoid single fares.

With 700 itineraries in more than 90 countries (including the new series of in-depth riverboat tours called National Geographic Journeys), G Adventures excels in offering trips geared to various ages, styles and interests — from families with young children to budget-minded “yolo’s” (the 18- to 39-year-old set).  Adventures is dynamic, cutting-edge, socially minded and hip (cue the great photos and video on their website), and definitely thinks outside of the typical travel company box. Quirky cruise anyone?

The line owns the G EXPEDITION ship for trips to the Arctic and Antarctica, and does full-ship charters for its many other small-ship offerings (hence ships may vary from year to year, and listings below reflect a portion of their current fleet). Consult their 150-page encyclopedia!

G Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

XAVIER III (built 1996, refurbished 2004; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

MONSERRAT (built 2005, refurbished 2016; 20 passengers) – Galapagos

QUEEN OF THE GALAPAGOS (built 2007; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

YOLITA (built 2007, refurbished 2016; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

ESTRELLA DEL MAR (built 1990, refurbished 2014; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

REINA SILVIA VOYAGER  (built 2020; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

EDEN  (built 2000, refurbished 2012; 16 passengers) – Galapagos

G EXPEDITION (built 1972, refurbished 2008; 134 passengers) – Arctic/Antarctica, designed to Ice Class 1B specifications

DANIELE (built 2015; 22 passengers) – Burgundy, France

TOUM TIOU II (built 2008; 28 passengers) – Mekong

VARUNA (built 2006; 24 passengers) — Ganges

AMATISTA (built 1994; 30 passengers) – Amazon

SAILING VESSELS in Europe, the Caribbean and Asia may change from year to year, but those chartered generally carry about 8 to 16 passengers.

A catamaran cruise in the waters of Thailand. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A catamaran cruise in the waters of Thailand. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Passenger Profile

Adventurous couples, singles, and families of all ages (though especially the under 40 set) mostly from North America, and a handful from the UK, Europe and other places. The ocean expedition cruises tend to attract largely couples, average age mid-50s, while the sailing tours draw mostly 30s singles.

Passenger Decks

2-3; no elevators.

Price

$ to $$, Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Generally meals are included across the board except on the small sailing yachts. For Galapagos and South America coastal cruises, snorkeling gear is part of the package, while bicycles are carried on French rivers and on the Mekong. On some itineraries guided shore excursions are also included.

Passengers on an excursion in the Galapagos. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Passengers on an excursion in the Galapagos. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Itineraries
  • Galapagos: There are mostly 7, 10 and up to 17-day cruises either round-trip from Baltra or San Cristobal islands, packaged with a 1- or 2-night hotel stay in mainland Quito, Ecuador with the longest more elaborate stays in Ecuador. Itineraries focus mostly on the Central (including Santa Cruz Santiago), Western (Isabela and Fernandina) and Southern (Floreana and Espanola) island groups, to get up close and personal with the amazing wildlife and diverse landscape. (Note: airfare between Quito and the islands is not included in the rates as it often is with other lines).
G Adventures

Estrella Del Mar in the Galapagos. * Photo- © G Adventures, Inc.

  • Europe Rivers: 6-night cruises round-trip from Dijon through France’s Burgundy region visit small villages and wineries, with excursions on foot and by bicycle.
  • India Rivers: 15-night cruises from Patna to Kolkata (Calcutta) on the Ganges River visit ancient temples, ornate palaces and sixth-century rock carvings. South, east and north coast catamaran sailing in Sri Lanka.
  • Southeast Asia Rivers: 7-night cruises (plus 2 hotel nights) on classic-style riverboats between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap go to wet and floating markets, temples (including a sunrise visit to the legendary Angkor Wat on the longer itins), stilt villages, and Vietnam war sites (such as the Cu Chi tunnels and Reunification Palace, associated with the Fall of Saigon in 1975).
  • Turkey & Croatia: 9-night super casual catamaran cruises travel between Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia, and between Bodrum and Fethiye, Turkey.
  • Greek Isles: 7-night super casual yacht cruises sail between Santorini and Mykonos with stops at untouristy offbeat islands in the Cyclades; maybe including Folegandros, Sifnos, Ios, Antiparos, Paros and/or Naxos.
  • Cuba: 6-night super casual catamaran cruises sail round-trip out of Havana and visit points on the Canarreos Archipelago with a focus on snorkeling, swimming and beach-bumming.
  • British Virgin Islands: 6-night catamaran cruises are round-trip from Tortola and hit all the best offbeat swimming, snorkeling and beach sites.
  • Maldives: 6-night cruises aboard a traditional dhoni (a dhow-like fishing boat) spend a week snorkeling and diving in the gorgeous waters of the Maldives islands, and its lagoons and atolls.
  • Thailand: Choose from 6 nighters round-trip from Phuket and 3-night cruises between Phuket and Koh Phi Phi. Indonesia Interisland catamaran cruising from Bali to nearby islands and Lombok.
Amarista on the Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Amarista on the Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

  • Amazon River: 7-night cruises on the Amazon depart from Iquitos, Peru; with optional pre- or post land trips to Machu Picchu.
  • Antarctica: 10- to 22-night cruises round-trip from Ushuaia, Argentina visit points throughout the South Shetland Islands and Antarctica Peninsula. Longest cruises add the Falklands and South Georgia..
  • Arctic/Norwegian Fjords: 10- to 14-night cruises between Reykjavik, Iceland, and Longyearbyen, Norway, visit ports along the coasts of Norway, Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard.
  • South America: 4- to 5-week-long cruises along the west coast of South America (Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia) are offered as the G EXPEDITION repositions between Antarctica and the Arctic region, with excursions to fjords, glaciers, national parks and rain forests, plus a 3-day overland trip to Machu Picchu.
No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

No shortage of South Georgia Penguins in the Antarctica. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

When to Go?

Galapagos is year-round, Antarctica late October through mid-March; Arctic late May through mid-September, SE Asia July-April, Maldives year-round, Thailand October-April, and Europe April-October.

Cabins

G EXPEDITION (Polar) is G Adventures’ owned ship for polar travel; it has five different cabin categories that range in size and layout. All have private bathrooms with showers, and a porthole or window. The two lowest categories are quads and triples with upper and lower bunk beds. All other categories have two lower beds, except for four larger suites that have a queen bed.

QUEEN OF GALAPAGOS (Galapagos) the most high-end of the company’s five Galapagos ships, has 9 luxury cabins all with windows, private bathroom and air conditioning, TV and DVD players — 7 have queen or twin beds, and 1 is a suite with a sitting area.

A light-filled twin cabin on the Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A light-filled twin cabin on the Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

YOLITA’s (Galapagos) 8 cabins have queen or twin beds, large windows, and TVs with DVD players. All have private bathrooms and air conditioning.

XAVIER III’s (Galapagos) 8 cabins are all double-occupancy with twin beds; 4 on the upper deck cabins with windows, and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All come with private bathrooms and air conditioning.

A twin cabin on Xavier III. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

A twin cabin on Xavier III. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

MONSERRAT’s (Galapagos) 10 cabins comprise 6 double-occupancy upper deck cabins with windows and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All are equipped with private bathrooms and air conditioning.

EDEN (Galapagos) takes 16 passengers and a two wraparound decks to easily access all directions. 4 cabins are twin lowers, a double bed cabin, and  3 twin-share bunk cabins, all with private facilities and A/C.

ESTRELLA DEL MAR (Galapagos) has 8 double-occupancy cabins with bunk beds, 4 on the upper deck with windows and 4 on the deck below with portholes. All have private bathrooms and air conditioning.

DANIELE (France) is a canal barge with 12 lower deck cabins all with windows and private bathrooms, TV, radio, and air-conditioning.

TOUM TIOU II (Mekong) has 6 upper deck cabins and 8 lower deck cabins, all with windows and en-suite bathrooms.

AMATISTA (Amazon) has 15 cabins — 7 upper deck and 8 lower deck, all with windows and private bathrooms.

VARUNA (Ganges) has 12 air-conditioned cabins, all with en suite bathrooms.

CATAMARANS/SAILING YACHTS (Cuba, BVIs, Greece, Croatia, Thailand, Maldives), the vessels may vary from year to year, but generally have 4 to 8 double cabins often (but not always) with private bathrooms.

Dining room on Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Dining room on Galapagos Queen. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Public Rooms & Dining

All Galapagos vessels and the polar ship G EXPEDITION have an indoor observation lounge for talks by the naturalists, plus a bar, small library, outdoor observation deck with chairs for relaxing, and indoor dining area for casual and relaxed meals. The menus where possible incorporate local ingredients, such as fish.

TOUM TIOU II (Mekong River) has a main lounge with a large-screen TV for watching a limited selection of DVDs, a library, bar, and open-air dining area and indoor/outdoor lounges. DANIELE (France) has a lounge with bar, dining area, sun deck with loungers and parasols, and a hot tub.

The small catamarans and yachts in the Caribbean, Europe, Thailand and the Maldives, and the riverboat on the Amazon, all have a combination lounge and dining area indoors, plus outdoor seating for sunbathing and hanging out.

Some vessels have reliable Wi-Fi, including G EXPEDITION, but on many, connectivity is spotty.

Amatista on Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Amatista on Amazon. * Photo: © G Adventures, Inc.

Activities & Entertainment

In general, the entertainment is the destination and interaction with fellow passengers, sharing conversation and drinks on deck. Activities happen in port or in the water while snorkeling, diving, kayaking or zipping around in zodiacs or small skiffs. The Galapagos boats carry 2 zodiacs for expeditions and snorkeling equipment for passengers’ use (wet suits are free of charge on QUEEN OF GALAPAGOS and YOLITA only). DANIELE (France) has a hot tub, and it and the Mekong riverboat carry a handful of bicycles.

Along the Same Lines

QuarkOne Ocean, Poseidon Adventures in the polar regions.

Contact

G Adventures, 19 Charlotte Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H5; 416-260-0999. US office: 179 South Street, 1st floor, Boston, MA 0211, 877 390 9050. Additionally in USA & Canada 1-888-8000-4100; UK 0344 272 2060; Australia 1300 853 325; New Zealand 0800 333 415. Consult the website for additional international telephone numbers.

— HMS

 

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Vela in the Caribbean Reviewed by Tim B.

REVIEWER

Tim B. from the USA.

CRUISE LINE

Island Windjammers.

SHIP

Vela.

DESTINATION

The Caribbean from St. Lucia to Grenada.

# OF NIGHTS

6.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

Aug 2018, from Rodney Bay, St. Lucia.

OVERALL RATING

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

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 5

HOW MANY SMALL-SHIP CRUISES HAVE YOU BEEN ON?

1.

REVIEW

It has been a many-decades long dream of mine to sail the Caribbean. I never quite got around to it when I was young enough to captain my own sailboat. As we are all aware, such fantasies are rarely matched by the reality of the eventual trip.

So as a 70 year old, reasonably fit traveler, off I went, and I can report that this trip, in all ways, exceeded my long held tropical sail dream.

Some opinions on a few important general items:

—This is not a cruise ship, and will likely not appeal to those who love the big cruise ship experience. The crowds and lines and glitz and glimmer of large ships have never appealed to me, so this was really my cup of tea (or glass of rum).

—This is a sailing vessel. There is considerable rocking and rolling during transit. The weather and seas were fairly tame as open-water sailing goes. Four of the 16 guests  developed mild seasickness early in the voyage. None had to miss any meals or activities. Do bring sea sickness meds that you have tried out before the trip if you think you might be prone, and plan on exercising some caution as you walk about the ship during transit, especially for the first day or two.  The captain always anchors the ship in protected harbors or leeward locations, so most of the time things are pretty calm and stable.

—As an older somewhat overweight guy with 2 knee replacements, I had no difficulties with any of the activities. You do need a degree of flexibility and fitness to navigate the fairly steep stairway down to your cabin, to get on and off the dingy (excellent assistance from the crew with this maneuver), and to enjoy the hikes and snorkeling.

—I loved the activities on this trip, but other reviewers seem to have expected more of a cruise ship experience. Expect time on gorgeous beaches, time swimming and snorkeling in amazingly clear and warm water, lounging on deck, and visiting small towns at your various island anchorages. The only “optional tour” on our passage was an island tour of Bequia, where we rode in the covered back bed of a small truck and visited small local attractions (model ship builder, turtle sanctuary, whaling museum. Our driver and guide was one of the last members of an extant whaling family, and his whaling history talk was fascinating). At $30, this was a great experience and a great value.  The other notable activity was the optional after dinner dingy rides ashore to visit local bars.  These trips were as much about the local culture as about drinking, and quite a rich experience.  Just don’t expect casinos, floor shows, spas, and tour busses.

As others have noted, you will likely become good friends with your fellow passengers, and the crowd that chooses this kind of vacation tends to be a pretty unique and interesting group. That being said, we had a couple of passengers who preferred to spend more alone time, and there was plenty of space and support for that experience also.

Some reviewers have mentioned the small cabins. Having sailed before on a smaller boat, I found my solo cabin to be quite adequate and comfortable. It was actually charming and cozy.  The bathroom with combined sink/toilet/shower was very functional. Pack everything in a soft-sided carry-on and you will be fine.

As others have mentioned, the food is remarkable for such a small ship.  Portion sizes are just right, and you are always offered seconds.  In addition to the three meals, excellent appetizers and rum punch were served every afternoon during “cocktail hour.” The vinophiles on our trip described the house wine as fairly decent, and there were opportunities to buy premium wines along the route of sail. I’m a beer snob, and found the local lager (Piton), stocked on the ship, to be excellent. On one occasion, the crew prepared and delivered an excellent “Cheeseburgers in Paradise” feast to the beach where we were spending the day. When anchored, dinner on deck was a real treat.

One of the keys to this cruise being so outstanding is the crew. We had 16 passengers and 10 crew. Each crew member was always busy tending to their duties, which often centered around the comfort and enjoyment of the passengers. They were personable, fun, yet professional. Our activities director was great, and gave us full briefings of the day’s activities.  She also accompanied us on most of our onshore adventures.

I have never done a mega-cruise, and have only heard of the hassles on embarkation and disembarkation days. Getting on and off Vela was quick, simple, and well organized.

Oh, and did I mention that this truly is a barefoot cruise? Except for the one island tour, I did not wear shoes from the time I boarded Vela until the time I got ready to leave for the airport.

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New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

By Judi Cohen (on Instagram @Travelingjudi)

Having lived on Lake Ontario for my entire life, it never crossed my mind that the Great Lakes could be a cruising destination. Until August, that is, when my sister-in-law Marla and I sailed aboard the newly overhauled 202-passenger Victory II for an inaugural 9-night sailing on the Great Lakes. This was a unique opportunity to experience both the challenges and the successes of a new launch, and a great deal of learning along the way.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Judi & Marla sailing away from Montreal!

We cruised through the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes system, including passing through a total of 17 locks along the way, starting in French Canada’s Montreal and Quebec City, followed by Kingston, Toronto and Niagara Falls in Ontario, and ending in Cleveland, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan in the United States. The food, alcohol and shore excursions were all included, which contributed to a relaxed vibe.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

The itinerary, from Quebec City and ending in Detroit.

Most of the passengers aboard for this inaugural trip were from Canada and the United States. It was interesting how many of the Americans from Texas, North Carolina and Oklahoma had never been to Canada before, and had booked this cruise to satisfy their curiosity about the Great Lakes and the ports on the Canadian side of the border. Some also mentioned that they were attracted to this sailing because there was a low risk of getting seasick.

 

Victory II

TheVictory II is a small vessel, just under 300 feet in length, with a maximum capacity of 202 passengers and up to 74 crew members. She was built in 2001 in Jacksonville, Florida, sailing for a time as the Sea Discoverer, before being refurbished and re-christened Victory II. 

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

The Victory II. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Bruce Nierenberg, the chairman of Victory Cruise Lines, was aboard and said Victory’s cruises were ideal for “experienced travelers, over 55, looking for premium non-mass market vacations.” He explained that because Victory’s two small ships are intimate, guests can actually get to know one-another. In my opinion, Bruce really got that right.

The ship has a comfortable, traditional feel with lots of wood paneling and velvet upholstery. I felt almost as if I was sailing in my own living room. There were no line-ups for dining with flexible dining hours generally starting from 7 to 8:30pm in the dining room, and the option of booking the upstairs Lighthouse Grille for 7 or 7:30pm seatings. We could be very casual on the ship generally and in the dining rooms. We did get dolled up a little for the night that we were invited to the Captains Table!

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Captains Table in the Victory Dining Room. * Photo: Judi Cohen

It was convenient to move around from one deck to the next to access dining, lounges, observation decks, the gym, the spa and the pursers desk which were all located next to a central staircase and elevator. I never needed a deck plan or directions to find anything. It was simple and intuitive. A welcome change from some larger ships I have sailed on.

Cozy Cabins

Our beautiful cozy Ocean View Stateroom with twin beds and two large windows was located on Deck 1, the lowest deck for passenger accommodations. While it was relatively small (158 sq. ft.) compared to larger mainstream ships, it was very well designed with lots of drawers, closets shelves and a desk. Even with the two of us sharing (and considering that we each brought enough clothes and shoes for 6 months!), everything found a place without difficulty. I brought my own wire hangers to supplement those provided on the ship, impressing my sister-in-law with this travel trick I learned a long time ago.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Judi’s cabin with 2 twin beds. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The bathroom was quite generous with a large shelf below the sink that we found convenient for all of our toiletry items. I must say the shower was quite small with a clingy shower curtain, however the powerful water pressure more than compensated for that.

Our room and bathroom were kept immaculately clean with ample supplies of soap, shampoo, shower gel, fresh drinking water and soft fluffy towels, bathrobes and slippers. It was nice to have a hairdryer and a safe in the room as well. Our beds were very comfortable with crisp white linens and a choice of pillows. When I got into bed I had a better night’s sleep than I get at home in my own bed.

A category A cabin aboard Victory II. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Pretty Public Rooms

The Great Lakes Lounge on Deck 2 is where the entertainment and presentations were held. With comfortable, plush velvety upholstered seating and small wood tables, we spent most of our leisure time in this inviting room. This is also where they served High Tea three times during our sailing.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Judi and Marla enjoying their High Tea!

The Whale of a Tail Tavern became very lively in the evenings when we were entertained with embarrassing Karaoke and dancing….and cocktails. We ended up in the bar every night to hear about everyone’s day and getting to know all the guests.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Judi in Whale of a Tail Tavern. * Photo: Marla Hertzman

I’m pretty sure that I spent time with every single guest either on the ship or on our excursions, something that would have been unthinkable on the larger ships that I’ve been on.

Lounge chairs and other seating were available on both of the observation decks, ideal for enjoying sail-aways and the starry night skies.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

A new ship being unveiled; peeling plastic from the observation lounge windows. Photo: Judi Cohen

Dining Delights

The Victory Dining Room, located on Deck 1, provided open seating at varying sized tables. Mornings featured a plentiful buffet breakfast with many healthy choices including fresh fruits, yogurts, muesli, nuts, cheeses, meats and breads, along with custom orders of eggs. I enjoyed medium-poached eggs on toast most mornings. For lunch, there were several menu items, served French style, including soups, salads, mains and desserts. Dinner was also served French style with choices of soups, salads, fish, meat and vegetarian mains, as well as dessert choices. My favorites were the poached salmon, lobster tails, Caesar salad, tenderloin and the fine cheeses from Quebec. The service was a little spotty initially as the staff was getting used to the new ship and the menu, as one would expect, but every team member went out of their way to make our meals enjoyable.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Lamb chops. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The Lighthouse Bar and Grille located on Deck 4 was a lovely room with glass all around for a panoramic view. It was particularly special to have breakfast there at sunrise or dinner at sunset, the later which we did, enjoying a mixed grill of lamb chops, steak and salmon, brought out raw on a hot lava stone. We cooked the meat and fish to our liking before removing them from the stone. Reservations were required here, but it was never a problem to find a table.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

The Lighthouse Grille. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Onboard Activities

Dr. Gloria Auchey, a professor English and communications from George Washington University, was the sole lecturer on board, giving several PowerPoint presentations about memory, personality and brain power.

Dr. Gloria Auchey presenting in Lounge. * Photo: Judi Cohen

What we would have preferred were experts lecturing about the ports and the seaway lock system. I found myself in many conversations with other guests, not familiar with the Seaway and Great Lakes, and curious about French versus English Canada. Providing reading materials or inviting destination experts on board would help to make this cruise a more enriching learning experience for everyone. A spokesman for Victory Cruise Lines says there will indeed be expert destination lecturers on board all future cruises to give talks about the history and culture of the ports.

When not exploring in port, a visit to the spa and/or  gym was always an option; I enjoyed a relaxing facial treatment and even managed to hit the gym twice. There was also a galley tour, karaoke, a Name-That-Tune contest and other trivia games.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Drinks before our galley tour! * Photo: Judi Cohen

 

The Victory II Passengers

Most of the guests were well traveled and between ages 55 and 85; however there were many travel and cruise industry people from Canada and the United States who were much younger. The majority of the guests were retirees who have turned their focus to seeing the world, learn new things and enjoy wonderful food!

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Quebec City sail-away with other guests on the observation deck. * Photo: Marla Hertzman

Only three passengers had physical limitations including Jane Ann who has macular degeneration and was accompanied by her husband and her guide dog named Sarge. Jane Ann made a presentation on the first day about her limited vision and her close relationship with Sarge, a beautiful black English Lab. She requested that we not play with Sarge unless we let her know first and then she would make an adjustment to her grip on his collar which magically gave him permission to be just a regular playful puppy and signaled to Sarge that he was “off duty.” The crew even placed patches of sod outside of the doors on a lower deck for Sarge to do his thing! We all loved having Sarge along on our shore excursions, during our meals and in the lounge areas.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Sarge being introduced in the Lounge. * Photo: Judi Cohen

 

Ports & Excursions

The most interesting aspect of this cruise was visiting all the various port cities and experiencing the many locks we maneuvered through. Our routine was similar each day with shore excursions in the morning and afternoon, and lunch in between, served either on or off the ship. All excursions were included in the cruise fares.

Montreal, Quebec

On Day 1, we boarded the ship in one of North America’s oldest cities, Montreal, and had a full day to visit. Starting with a city tour, we saw the bustling Old City of Montreal with its galleries, boutiques and restaurants set in stone buildings. The highlight was visiting the majestic Notre Dame Basilica and the architectural gems outside in the square. My jaw dropped at the deep blues in the intricate stained-glass windows and dome at the Notre Dame. I could have sat for hours just staring up.

Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica. * Photo: Judi Cohen

But there was so much more to see including the views from our drive towards Mont Royal, the 20-storey high mural of poet and Canadian music legend Leonard Cohen, and the campus of McGill University. In a strange way, I felt as if I was carried back to Japan during our visit to the Botanical Gardens, with its pagodas and bonsai garden.

After lunch on the ship, we meandered through the streets of Old Montreal and along the vibrant carnival-like waterfront boardwalk before returning to the ship completely exhausted from the 95-degree heat. We gathered on the observation deck with cocktails in hand and sailed away, passing the site of Expo 67, with its few remaining structures, including architect Moshe Safdie’s cube houses and the United States Glass Sphere Pavilion, so that was a trip back down memory lane.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Montreal’s Botanical Gardens. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Quebec City, Quebec and Kingston, Ontario

I fully embraced our next two ports, Quebec City and Kingston, which tell the vibrant story of French and English Canada. Visiting the historical Plains of Abraham and a few stops in the only walled city in North America, followed by a walk across the top of the Montmorency Falls, provided a taste of this compact, hilly and cobblestoned city. Stopping at the castle-like Chateau Frontenac Hotel poised on top of the city provided a full panoramic view of the walled city and the waterfront.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Lovely Old Quebec. * Photo: Judi Cohen

By contrast, Kingston tells the tale of the British and Upper Canada. In addition to touring the early-19th-century Fort Henry, we were taken to the inner sanctum of the Royal Military Institute and allowed to walk on Parade Square before heading to the Kingston Penitentiary Museum. The storied maximum-security penitentiary once housed legendary prisoners like convicted mass murderers Paul Bernardo and Clifford Olsen. I can’t say I enjoyed seeing the old prison cells and the disciplinary equipment, but I left with a visceral sense of the harsh and lonely existence for prisoners languishing in their cells.

Visiting the Rideau Canal’s Kingston Mill Lock on a beautiful sunny day was a true highlight. It’s hard to believe that this UNESCO site, with its massive wooden gates, is still operated manually. As we watched the operation to let two small boats through the locks, one of the hundreds of the iconic Canadian Pacific trains thundered across the iron bridge directly over our heads. A truly Canadian experience.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Kingston’s Rideau Canal. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Toronto, Ontario

The largest Canadian city we visited was Toronto. A bus tour in the morning took us past the Bay Street skyscrapers in the bustling financial district and Yorkville’s chic shopping district, with a stop at City Hall followed by a walk from the newly installed “Doggy Fountain” to the historic St. Lawrence Market. Hearing all the comments from other guests made me very proud of my hometown.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Judi at Toronto’s Doggie Fountain. * Photo: Marla Hertzman

Some guests went back to the ship for lunch. I joined Sheila and Tom from Greenville, Texas, for lunch in Yorkville followed by a stroll along Toronto’s “mink mile” for a little shopping therapy. We then took an Uber to the Art Gallery of Ontario to rejoin the other cruise guests for a tour prior to returning to the ship through heavy traffic and sheer chaos in the downtown core. What a welcome to Toronto.

Welland Canal

As we retired for the evening after our stop in Toronto, we were told that the captain would be up all night with his crew to navigate through several locks on the Welland Canal. Built in 1829, this canal links Lake Ontario and Lake Erie (lakes teeming with freighters) and provides a detour around Niagara Falls. Not unlike the lock we visited along the Rideau Canal in Kingston, Ontario, these locks use gravity and water as the lock gates are opened and closed. Unfortunately, we passed through the locks during the night. All we could hear was the bumping and creaking noises as the ship entered and exited each lock.

During the crossing of the lakes, we watched the huge freighters pass as we had dinner. When two giant CSL freighters passed very close to our ship, I pointed out to my sister-in-law that Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) was bought by our former Prime Minister Paul Martin.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Ship inside one of the 17 locks. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Port Colborne – Niagara Falls, Ontario

In the morning, after our successful passage through the Welland Canal, we disembarked in Port Colborne and took a bus ride to Niagara Falls. I’ve been going there since I was a child, visiting dozens of times with friends and family. To be honest, Niagara Falls never gets old.

One of the older passengers told me that she specifically chose this Victory II cruise because she wanted to see Niagara Falls before she dies. I could feel the excitement and anticipation as we waited in line with our bright pink plastic rain ponchos to board the small boat, named the Hornblower, that would take us to the base of the US and Canadian Horseshoe Falls.

As the warm spray engulfed us, I heard squeals of sheer joy as we all tried to take pictures and videos without having our phones and cameras destroyed by the water. Nobody left the Falls disappointed.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

In Niagara-Falls, pink raincoats on the Hornblower boat. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We then drove to the Chateau Des Charmes Winery for a delicious lunch with paired wines, including Niagara Ice Wine. As if this wasn’t enough, we then carried on to the quaint city of Niagara-on-the-Lake for a nice walk along its main street that is just brimming with cafes, clothing boutiques, candy stores and ice cream shops, plus beautiful small hotels and B & B’s.

All in all, a spectacular day in the Niagara region, with its fruit trees, grape vines, wineries, theatres, shopping, fudge shops and small colorful restaurants. Two thumbs up.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Niagara on the Lake is bursting with flowers. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Cleveland, Ohio

Our first port in the U.S. was Cleveland. This city absolutely “rocked.” Not just because of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where I ambled for hours, enjoying musical flashbacks to my hippie days, but because of the rebirth that is evident in all of the city’s neighborhoods.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Our welcome at the Port of Cleveland. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Welcomed by a local choir, and people holding up “Welcome to Cleveland” signs, we boarded “Holly the Trolley” for an open-air tour of the city. The historical West Side Market, dating back to 1912, was buzzing with food vendors and shoppers. I stopped at every bakeshop to carefully study the cupcakes, candies, breads, cookies and assorted colorful delicacies. I experienced sensory overload and loved every second of it.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Judi and Marla in Holly the Trolley for our City Tour in Cleveland.

Cleveland has many old iron bridges from all eras crossing the Cuyahoga River (referred to as the crooked river), that allow ships to pass through the inland waterways that serviced the industrial factories and warehouses. The abandoned warehouses are slowly being converted into cool hipster loft housing, all part of the recent transformation of the city.

Who knew Cleveland had a theatre district that is allegedly second only to New York City and a fabulous Art Gallery currently hosting the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibit. (So interesting, I didn’t know!)  I tried buying tickets to see the popular play Hamilton and the Kusama exhibit, but unfortunately both were sold out.

I wondered why we were being taken to the Lake View Cemetery. I have been to Pere Lachaise in Paris to see Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde’s graves and to La Recoletta Cemetery in Buenos Aires to visit Evita Peron’s  grave, but I have never seen anything like the Wade Memorial Chapel in Lake View Cemetery.

Built in 1901, the centerpiece of the small chapel is a 9-by-7-foot stained-glass window called “Flight of Souls,” depicting the consummation of the Divine Promise, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany (of Tiffany and Co.). It showcases his signature “favrile” method of layering translucent and opalescent pieces of glass to create rich, deep colours. Prior to being installed in this chapel, the piece won first place at the 1900 World Exposition in Paris. Presidents and numerous celebrities are buried in this beautiful cemetery.

I could have easily spent another couple of days in Cleveland.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

The Tiffany stained-glass window “Flight of Souls” inside Cleveland’s Wade Chapel. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Detroit, Michigan

Our last port along the Detroit River was Detroit, often referred to as “Motor City” for its rich automobile history. This is the home of Ford Motor Company, and the shiny glass “Oz-like” General Motors Building sits prominently on the waterfront near the port. It is also the home of Barry Gordie Jr., the founder of Motown Music.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Judi made sure to visit the Motown Museum on her own. * Photo: Marla Hertzman

While Victory Cruise Lines did not have any planned shore excursions in Detroit, a few passengers that I spoke with had made arrangements for private tours of the city. I stayed overnight in Detroit before driving home to Toronto and visited the Motown Museum and had a famous Coney Hot Dog at Duleys Place, made famous by the late Anthony Bourdain.

Most other passengers took taxis to Detroit Airport and boarded flights home. I hope they will one day return to see the revitalized Detroit with its iconic buildings, music and food.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Sailing along the Detroit River at sunrise. * Photo: Judi Cohen

 

Until Next Time ….

Warning:  If you enjoy giant cruise ships with thousands of passengers and loads of onboard entertainment and shopping, this cruise is not for you. If you are looking for a small, comfortable, casual, hassle-free and intimate ship, Victory II is right up your alley.

What I loved about the Victory II was the absence of line-ups, the freedom and flexibility to dine when, where and with whom I wanted to, the family feeling among the passengers and with the staff, and the ease with which I could access all of the ship’s services from just one central staircase.

The unique St. Lawrence and Great Lakes itinerary took us to interesting cities characteristic of the regions on our route with ample time to explore both as part of the included excursions and independently. The food was outstanding with a nice variety of menu items and our room was cozy, clean and comfortable. I recognize that this was the inaugural sailing and, while yes, there were some hiccups that were irritants for some passengers — minor things like key cards not working and pictures to be hung — I expect these minor issues will be quickly corrected for future sailings. After all, this was the first opportunity to really unwrap this ship and unveil her beauty and services on the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes, an area not often seen from a small cruise ship.

New Victory II Great Lakes Adventure

Captain Waving as we approach the Port of Detroit. * Photo: Judi Cohen

 

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Affordable River Cruising in Europe

Affordable River Cruising in Europe

Check out these 5 special offers for Affordable River Cruising in Europe from the folks at Cruise Traveller, an Australia-based small-ship expert. For more details or to book, click on the links to go to the agency’s website.

Click here for more info about Cruise Traveller.

All rates are in Australian dollars and all are available to Australian passengers only.

 

Cruise Traveller

 

Happy small-ship cruising!

Affordable River Cruising in Europe

Fabulous France

Cruise Package: 12-night cruise package departing 11 October, 2019, comprises a 7-night cruise including all excursions and meals, FREE drinks package, plus 5-night stay in Paris and more.

Ship:  140-passenger Lord Byron; built 2013.

Offer:  Enjoy return economy airfare from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth to Marseille (via Paris) and return from Lyon, 5-night Paris stay with transfers/breakfast; FREE 1-day big bus Paris pass; full day tour from Paris to Bruges; transfer from Marseille airport to Avignon port; 7-night river cruise from Avignon to Lyon aboard ms Lord Byron to Burgundy & Provence and including all shore activities/meals plus BONUS FREE drinks package onboard river cruise, air/port taxes and all transfers throughout. Fares for a Twin Lower Deck with windows start at AUD $7,995 per person, and for a Single Lower Deck with windows, from AUD $10,195 per person.

Expires:  30 September, 2018, or until sold out/withdrawn.

Visit the Cruise Traveller site for more info or to book this cruise.

Affordable River Cruising in Europe

Lord Byron

Danube Delights

Cruise Package: 12-night cruise package departing 22 October, 2019, comprises a 7-night cruise including all excursions and meals, FREE drinks package, plus 5-night stay in Budapest and more.

Ship:  169-passenger Robert Burns; brand new built 2018.

Offer:  Enjoy round-trip economy airfare from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth to Budapest including tax; 5-night Budapest hotel stay with breakfast/transfers; 48-hour hop-on hop-off bus pass for Budapest; full-day tour to Puszta horses with lunch; 7-night Blue Danube river cruise with the NEW ms Robert Burns round-trip from Budapest including all meals; plus a large range of included sightseeing and port taxes, port taxes. Fares for a single (French Balcony Middle Deck) cabin start at AUD $9,995 per person, and with a BONUS FREE onboard beverage package valued at AUD $199 per person.

Expires:  31 August, 2018, or until sold out/withdrawn.

Visit the Cruise Traveller site for more info or to book this cruise.

Affordable River Cruising in Europe

Beautiful Budapest


Swiss Stunner

Cruise Package: 12-night cruise package departing 30 April, 2019, comprises a 7-night cruise including all excursions and meals, FREE drinks package, plus 5 hotel nights and more.

Ship:  169-passenger Emily Bronte; new built 2017.

Offer:  Enjoy round-trip economy class airfare from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth to Cologne and from Zurich on return; 1-night Cologne hotel stay with transfers; 7-night Rhine cruise to Switzerland aboard Emily Bronte from Cologne to Basel; 3-night post-cruise hotel extension from Basel to Zurich including the famous Glacier Express train from Chur to Zermatt and transport; 1-night post tour hotel stay in Zurich; air/port taxes; plus BONUS FREE beverage package on cruise valued at $199 per person! Fares for a Twin Lower Deck with window start from AUD $7,695 per person and Single Middle Deck cabins with French balcony start at AUD $13,295 per person.

Expires:  30 October, 2018, or until sold out/withdrawn.

Visit the Cruise Traveller site for more info or to book this cruise.

Affordable River Cruising in Europe

Emily Bronte

 

Portugal Perfection

Cruise Package: 17-night cruise package departing 10 June, 2019, comprises a 7-night cruise including all excursions and meals and FREE drinks package, plus 10 hotel nights and more.

Ship:  126-passenger Douro Elegance; new built 2017.

Offer: Enjoy round-trip economy class from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth to Lisbon and from Porto on return; 1-night Lisbon stay with breakfast/transfer; 8-night small group “Discover Portugal” tour (18 guests max) from Lisbon to Porto with accommodation and some meals plus most touring and entrance fees; 1-night Porto stay with transfer to port; 7-night Douro River cruise aboard ms Douro Elegance round-trip from Porto with all meals and shore activities included; air/port taxes; plus free BONUS drinks package on board the river cruise. Fares for Twin Lower Deck cabins with window start at AUD $11,295 per person and Single Middle Deck cabins with full size window start at AUD $18,365 per person.

Expires:  30 November, 2018, or until sold out/withdrawn.

Visit the Cruise Traveller site for more info or to book this cruise.

Affordable River Cruising in Europe

Douro Elegance

The Eastern European Explorer

Cruise Package: 25-night cruise package departing 7 September, 2019, comprises a 14-night cruise including all excursions and meals and FREE drinks package, plus 11 hotel nights and more.

Ship:  169-passenger Thomas Hardy; new built 2017.

Offer: Enjoy round-trip economy class from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth and from Prague on return including taxes; 1-night Budapest hotel stay with transfers/breakfast; 14-night “Budapest to Black Sea” river cruise aboard Thomas Hardy round-trip from Budapest including most meals (1 lunch is not included on day 6) and many shore activities; BONUS shipboard drinks package (valued at $389 per person); 1-night Budapest hotel stay with breakfast/transfers; 8-night small group escorted tour from Budapest to Prague with accomodation, transport and some meals; 1-night Prague hotel stay with breakfast/transfers; and air/port taxes. Fares for Twin Lower Deck cabins with window start at AUD $14,795 per person and Single Middle Deck cabins with French balcony start at AUD $25,595 per person.

Expires:  30 November, 2018, or until sold out/withdrawn.

Visit the Cruise Traveller site for more info or to book this cruise.

Affordable River Cruising in Europe

Thomas Hardy

 

Note:Deals are generated by, and the responsibility of, Cruise Traveller, and are based on availability and are subject to change. Cruises are capacity-controlled and offers may be withdrawn at any time. All rates are per person and some fares may include shore excursions and some or all beverages.

 

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Australis

Australis

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

Read our STELLA AUSTRALIS feature article by Randy Mink here.

 

Australis

The Australis 2. * Photo: Australis

 

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

Passenger Profile

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

Australis

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


Passenger Decks

Five decks and no elevator.

Price

$$ and not a lot of extra charges.

Itineraries

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

Included Features

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

Why Go?

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

Close up views. * Photo: Australis

Close up views. * Photo: Australis


When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

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

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


Dining

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

Dining with a view. * Photo: Australis

Dining with a view. * Photo: Australis


Activities & Entertainment

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

Exploring the Tucker Islets. * Photo: Australis

Exploring the Tucker Islets. * Photo: Australis


Along the Same Lines

No one else regularly sails in this Patagonian region.

Contact

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

 

 

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Ecoventura

Ecoventura

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

Ecoventura

The 20-passenger Origin. * Photo: Ecoventura

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

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

Ecoventura

The sundeck on the upcoming Theory. * Rendering: Ecoventura

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

Passenger Profile

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

Ecoventura

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

Passenger Decks

4 and no elevators

Price

$$$

Included Features

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

Ecoventura

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

Ecoventura

The beloved blue footed booby. * Photo: Ecoventura

Cabins

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

A Letty cabin with twin beds. * Photo: Ecoventura

A Letty cabin with twin beds. * Photo: Ecoventura

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

Ecoventura

A Double Cabin on Origin. * Photo: Ecoventura

Public Rooms & Dining

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

Ecoventura

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

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

Letty's dining area. * Photo: Ecoventura

Letty’s dining area. * Photo: Ecoventura

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

 

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Hebrides Cruises

Hebrides Cruises

Hebrides Cruises is a small family-operated line that currently operates two vessels taking just 10 and 12 passengers on cruises to Scotland’s Western Isles, lochs and the Caledonian Canal that stretches 60 miles across Scotland. The emphasis is on Scotland’s varied wildlife, in the sea, air and on land, particularly in the Western Isles; island hopping; visiting small isolated communities; and enjoying the rugged island and mountain scenery, plus Scottish lochs and the Caledonian Canal on certain itineraries. Both vessels are ideal for chartering to extended families and groups of friends. Note: This line should not be confused with Hebridean Island Cruises.

Cruise vessels don’t get much smaller than these two, and their rugged construction makes them ideal for cruising Scotland’s beautiful and wildlife-filled Western Isles.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

ELIZABETH G (stabilized) was rebuilt in 1995 from a Norwegian rescue vessel and takes 10 passengers; 12 on a charter. EMMA JANE was purchased in 2016 and began sailing on May 13, 2017 as PROUD SEAHORSE renamed in 2018 . She is a mini-cruise vessel and takes 10 passengers, therefore, doubling the line’s capacity. Note: A calendar provides the availability of space for every sailing late April to early October.

Hebrides Cruises

The Elizabeth G. * Photo: Ted Scull

Passenger Decks

ELIZABETH G has 3 decks, and EMMA JANE 4 decks, and neither has elevators. This pair is not suitable for wheelchair passengers. Passengers with mobility issues are helped on and off the ships.

Hebrides Cruises

EMMA JANE. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Passenger Profile

Age range is roughly 30-65. Children under 12 are not accepted unless it is a full ship charter; same for pets. Crew numbers 4 — captain, bosun, chef and wildlife guide.

Price

$$ to $$$ Expensive to Pricey. Full charter offers a 10% discount.

Included Features

All meals, morning coffee, afternoon tea, snacks, bottled water and house wine with dinner; guided shore trips by wildlife experts.

Hebrides Cruises

On deck at happy hour. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

4-, 6-, 8- and 10-night cruises operate between the end of April through to mid-October covering variously the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Caledonian Canal across Scotland and several lochs. The shortest, 4 nights, visits Lochs Linnhe and Etive and the Isle of Lismore; 6 nights either the Caledonian Canal between Oban and Inverness or the Isles of Skye, Muck, Eigg, Rum and Canna; while the 8-nighter adds the more remote Shiant Isles. The longest, 10 nights, includes Mingulay, Barra, South and North Uist, Harris and the most remote and dramatic of the Outer Hebrides: St. Kilda and its raucous bird colonies. The website has a space available chart. Dates that list “0” are available for charters.

Why Go?

Scotland is a gorgeous sea, sky, and mountain country with lovely isles and lochs to visit that are home to hugely varied wildlife — birds, animals and sea creatures. The locals are friendly too.

When to Go?

Scotland is a fickle weather sort of country, with sudden changes in very short periods of time, so you take your chances at any time of the April to October cruising season. June tends to sell out first.

Cabins
Hebrides Cruises

EMMA JANE cabin. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

ELIZABETH G has six double cabins for 10 passengers, while up to 12 for a private charter. Three toilets and two shower rooms are shared, while every cabin has a sink. N.B. During the winter 2018/2019, a refit will see 8 passengers in four twins or doubles, all with private facilities; 10 accommodated on charters, EMMA JANE has 4 doubles or twin ensuite cabins and one cabin suite (separate bedroom and lounge) for a maximum of 10 passengers. The fittings and finishes show great attention to detail. Single passengers may ask to share a double cabin on a per person basis, or if the ship is not full, have the cabin to themselves. Otherwise singles pay the full cabin rate.

Twin-berth cabin, ELIZABETRH G. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Twin-berth cabin, ELIZABETH G * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Public Rooms

The lounge is adjacent to the dining section, while the wheelhouse and outer decks are additional public spaces with lounge seating.

Lounge, PROUD SEA HORSE, Hebridean Cruises

Lounge EMMA JANE. * Photo:  Hebridean Cruises

Dining

Everyone dines at the same time. Sample menus: Breakfast — porridge with fruit compote, smoked Scottish salmon and scrambled eggs, whole meal toast or biscuits. Lunch — two courses with soup, salad or sandwiches on freshly baked bread. Dinner is a set meal by candlelight — locally caught langoustines and scallops, chicken breasts stuffed with haggis, with potatoes and vegetables. Dessert: roasted figs with heather honey, Greek yoghurt. Finish up with cheese and biscuits and coffee. If aboard, there’s a service of morning coffee, afternoon tea and homemade cakes or biscuits. Special diets catered to with advance notice.

Snacks in the dining saloon. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Snacks in the dining saloon, ELIZABETH G. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

Organized trips ashore are led by a qualified wildlife guide for spotting at sea and when ashore. Trips might involve two hours to visit local villages and their attractions or longer hikes. Also, some hikes may be self-guided for those who prefer independent activities. Wildlife often seen comprise whales, sharks, dolphins, many types of sea birds, white-tailed and golden eagles, and otters and red deer. On islands such as Hirta and far out St.Kilda, birding trips may last six hours and include a packed lunch. If feeling lazy, enjoy the ship and its observation deck and let the others mess about.

Special Notes

Scotland’s weather is highly fickle and temperatures may be cool even in summer. It is best to wear breathable waterproof jacket and trousers, and think layers rather than a heavy coat. Walking boots are the best footwear, and a walking stick is a good steadying tool in rough and slippery terrain. Insect repellent should be taken for trips ashore or applied before.

Along the Same Lines

The Majestic Line, Magna Carta Steamship Company, Hebridean Island Cruises.

Contact: Hebrides Cruises, Craigard, Connel PA37 1 PT Scotland; +44 (0)1631 711 986; www.hebridescruises.co.uk

TWS

 

 

 

 

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