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Sven-Olof Lindblad.

Lindblad’s Return to Service

By Anne Kalosh.

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

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

Small-ship Advantage

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

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

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

Sven-Olof Lindblad.

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

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

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

Testing is Key

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

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

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

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

RELATED: Lindblad Expeditions Goes Carbon Neutral.  by Anne Kalosh

Wild & Remote Places

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

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

Lindblad use lots of kayaks and zodiacs

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

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

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

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

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

Returned U.S. Aid

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

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

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

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

A Look Inside National Geographic Endurance

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

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

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

Lindblad's return with the National Geographic Endurance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Expedition Lines Act to Reduce Air Pollution

Special Note: As only three of the 12 ships in the Hurtigruten daily service coastal fleet fall below our limit of 300 cabin passengers, a brief addendum at the end will describe the remaining ships that handle from 451 to 640 berthed passengers. Also, the expedition ship FRAM (276 passengers) will then follow with a full review and varied itineraries that include northern Europe, Iceland, Greenland, partial NW Passage, Canadian Maritimes and the U.S. East Coast en route to and from the Antarctic season. Others to follow and mentioned below under itineraries.

Hurtigruten

Norwegian ships (like the ones Hurtigruten operates) traveling north from Bergen, the country’s principal west coast port, have tied the south with the north beyond the North Cape since 1893 carrying passengers, all manner of cargo and until relatively recently, the mail. This venerable service has gradually evolved from serving as a much needed transport link to one that increasingly thrives on overseas visitors who come to ogle and partake in the delights of one beautiful country. During the course of a 12-day, 2,500-mile round-trip voyage, the ships put in at 35 different ports each way, and as the northbound schedule varies from the southbound, many served at night on the way north will become daylight stops in the other direction.

Tip: If limited in time, the northbound routing calls at the more interesting ports during convenient daytime hours.

Sailing deep into the Geirangerfjord. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sailing deep into the Geirangerfjord. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

LOFOTEN (built 1964 & 153 beds), VESTERALEN (b. 1983 and enlarged 1989 & 301 beds), SPITSBERGEN (b. 2009 & 243 beds). Deck passengers are not counted. The LOFOTEN will be withdrawn from the coastal service with a final departure from Bergen in December 2020 and a return to Bergen on January 2, 2021.

When another operator is hopefully announced, we will share the good news here!

Note: If you live in North America and book through the Hurtigruten agency for this region, you can no longer book either the classic LOFOTEN or VESTERALEN. You have to book through an office in Europe —  https://www.hurtigruten.co.uk and email: uk.sales@hurtigruten.com. These older ships are ignored (worse: banned from booking) in North America while their heritage is touted and extolled in Europe.

Passenger Profile

International passengers (from principal countries: Norway, Germany, Britain, US), mostly over age 40 occupy the cabins, plus Norwegians and European backpackers of all ages traveling locally (a few stops) in cabins and on deck.

Passenger Decks

LOFOTEN (5) no elevator; VESTERALEN (7) elevator between all decks. SPITSBERGEN has an elevator between 5 of 6 decks, but not highest Sun Deck.

Price

$ – $$  Moderate to Expensive

Itineraries

As Hurtigruten operates a daily scheduled passenger and freight service, the itinerary remains fixed throughout the year, with the sole exception of a diversion into the gorgeous Geirangerfjord that begins in the spring and lasts into the fall. When in 2016 the SPITSBERGEN joined the fleet more as an expedition ship, including a staff to give talks and lead trips ashore. However, the ship calls only at daytime ports (as listed in the regular schedules), therefore, dwelling longer and skipping ports presently listed with nighttime arrivals and departures. Five detours into fjords are also included.

Several other Hurtigruten  ships will also join the more cruise-like itinerary with daylight calls – FINNMARKEN, MIDNATSOL and TROLLFJORD (550 to 570 passengers) will also follow this pattern as well as operate expeditions in Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. In addition, purpose-built new expedition ships will join the fleet with ROALD AMUNDSEN in summer 2019 and FRIDTJOF NANSEN IN 2020, both taking 530 passengers, thus certainly worth mentioning but well beyond our 300 passenger limit to engage in a full review.

Hurtigruten

Ted at bow of Lofoten. * Photo: Greg Fitzgerald

Included Features

Tips are not expected though many passengers do give to the wait staff.

Why Go?

The number one reason people think of booking a cruise to Norway is for the fjord, coastal and island scenery. Another is Hurtigruten’s variety of port calls, from tiny towns where the ships provide an essential service, to the country’s most beautiful mid-size cities of Bergen, Alesund, Trondheim and Tromso. Cargo handling is another attraction with something being loaded or off-loaded at every port, and lastly to meet Norwegians who are traveling in their own country for a whole host of reasons.

Should you choose the Lofoten, you will be sailing on a much loved time machine, a passenger and cargo-carrying vessel from more than a half-century ago, a type that has all but disappeared from the seas.

Lofoten is a working ship with all cargo crane-loaded in and out of the hold. * Photo: Ted Scull

Lofoten is a working ship with all cargo crane-loaded in and out of the hold or placed on the open deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

That’s a complex question as Norway’s maritime weather is fickle in almost any season.

Spring and fall will show off the change of seasons as you travel over 1,000 miles from south to north or vice versa. Long daylight hours are part of late spring through midsummer sailings.

School holidays will see the most passengers aboard, including backpackers making short coastal trips and heading out to the well offshore Lofoten Islands.

Winter brings on vibrant displays of the Northern Lights, with the downside being long hours of darkness. My preference, after a half-dozen coastal voyages, is from April through the end of May when there are fewer tourists, lots of light and a noticeable change of seasons during the course of the voyage.

Cabins

LOFOTEN’s tiny cabin accommodations will be the biggest hurdle to face as the best cabins sell out early. Very few cabins have twin lower beds, and most are designed like an enlarged railway sleeping compartment with upper and lower berths. On the deck plans, categories N (3 cabins), J (3), A (20) and I (7) have private shower and toilet. The Ds have showers and toilets along the passageways. Total cabin berths number 154.

Note:  See https://www.hurtigruten.com/our-ships/ms-lofoten/ for useful cabin photos to help make your decision.

VESTERALEN’s cabins come with private shower and toilet, and range from two beds, with one converting from a sofa, to others with upper and lowers; the majority are outside, plus insides and a block of cabins having restricted views. SPITSBERGEN’s cabins all have private facilities with a mixture of configurations. With two berth cabins, one converts to a sofa, and some will have an extra upper berth. All cabins have private facilities, with some having limited or no outside views. Upper grades have TVs.

Dining

Tables are assigned for dinner which is a set, served meal, though special dietary requests are accommodated with advance notice. The cooking is straight forward continental fare that appeals to a wide mostly European market. Breakfast and lunch are buffet, and the choices should satisfy most tastes.

If you like marinated herring served a half-dozen ways, as I do, you will be in heaven. Interport passengers who are on just for a day or two have to pay for meals so most head to the LOFOTEN’S and VESTERALEN’s cafeterias located behind the main restaurant. SPITSBERGEN has an aft dining room and a Bistro for light meals and refreshments.

Vesteralen leaving port to continue the southbound voyage to Bergen. * Photo: Ted Scull

Vesteralen leaving port to continue the southbound voyage to Bergen. * Photo: Ted Scull

Public Rooms

LOFOTEN is one-of-a-kind and exudes the retro atmosphere of a small country hotel, comfy, beautifully wood-paneled and largely unchanged from the 1960s. Two lounges look forward, the top one affording the best views, while the lower lounge is quieter and better suited to reading and playing board games but with the view forward along the cargo deck. A third lounge, located aft and an extension of the cafeteria, is used for conversation and/or having a drink.

VESTERALEN is plainer inside and boasts a 360-degree top deck, glass-topped lounge for viewing the scenery, a second forward facing lounge, restaurant in the forward section of the deck below, café aft of that, small playroom, two conference rooms and a secluded lounge at the stern. SPITSBERGEN has two forward lounges, one with 270-degree views.

Dining room aboard the Lofoten. * Photo: Fellow Passenger.

Dining room aboard the Lofoten. * Photo: Fellow Passenger (Empty Chair).

Activities & Entertainment

Shore excursions abound from the active such as kayaking, snowmobiling and dog sledding (in season) to bird watching, sightseeing a town’s historic past, visiting a Sami camp in Lapland and a drive to the North Cape. The Northern Lights are at their brightest in winter. Nearly every call allows at least a quick look ashore before the ship’s whistle beckons you back, while Trondheim, a cathedral city, and Alesund, an Art Nouveau treasure, encourage several hours of exploring. On some summertime voyages, musicians will be aboard. SPITSBERGEN will have an expedition-style shore program.

Special Notes: Tax on alcohol is sky high in Norway, so beer and wine prices are amongst the most expensive in the world. Some bring aboard what they like to drink and enjoy it in their cabin before dinner — while private supplies are taboo in the public rooms.

Addendum

A description of the nine other ships follows including years delivered and berth capacities. Deck passengers are additional.

Kong Harald 1993 and 474 pass; Richard With 1993 and 464 pass; Nordlys 1994 and 469 pass; Polarlys 1996 and 473 pass; Nordkapp 1996 and 458 pass; Nordnorge 1997 and 451 pass; Finnmarken 2002 and 628 pass; Trollfjord 2002 and 640 pass; Midnatsol 2003 and 638 pass. Newly added, Spitsbergen 2009, rebuilt 2015 and 243 passengers, will replace Midnastol on the coastal route in winter when the latter goes off to Antarctica.

These 6- and 7-deck ships offer high up forward-facing panoramic lounges, additional public rooms and bars, conference rooms, children’s playroom, large restaurant aft with wraparound windows and cafeteria. At dinner, passengers will choose between the regular set 3-course meal and a 2- to 5-course a la carte menu with a supplemental charge starting at $19. Most cabins are outside with two beds, one a folding sofa bed, and private bathroom facilities with showers. Suites additionally come with TVs, sitting areas, minibar and some private balconies. All ships feature attractive Norwegian paintings, murals and sculptures. Cargo and vehicles roll-on, roll-off.

These larger ships have started a new thrust where an expedition team provides an enrichment program aboard and leads passengers ashore on hikes to look for wildlife and unusual geographical points of interest. Other new offerings on selected trips bring personnel aboard to provide a cultural emphasis with Norwegian art, music, history, music, legends & myths; voyages dedicated to astronomy during winter period when the Aurora Borealis is a dazzling sight; Norway’s conflicts through history from the Vikings to WWII and German occupation; and the all-important fishing industry. These are in addition to the classic style with 45 traditional shore excursions, some seasonal, offered over the course of a year.

The Nordlys passing southbound to Bergen. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Nordlys passing southbound to Bergen. * Photo: Ted Scull

FRAM: Expedition Ship

Hurtigruten began operating summer cruises to Spitsbergen (Svalbard), located north of Norway many years ago, and then in 2007, the firm built a dedicated expedition ship, Fram, at Italy’s Fincantieri yard, to offer a year-round program of expedition cruises to a new wide range of itineraries, not just the Polar Regions only. Before and after the Antarctic season, the ship makes positioning trips from and back to Europe. Itineraries include Iceland, Greenland, Canada’s Maritime Provinces, New England, U.S. East Coast, and the West Coast of South America via Costa Rica and the Panama Canal.

The ship’s name refers to the original Fram, an early 20th-century exploratory vessel that made pioneering voyages above the Arctic Circle on surveys and carried Roald Amundsen to Antarctica to become the first person to reach the South Pole. Midnatsol, taken off the Norwegian coastal route in winter carries 500 passengers in Antarctica. Additional expedition ships have been ordered to expand the variety of itineraries in North Europe, the Arctic, Antarctica and South America but they exceed our 300-passenger limit. For example, Roald Amundsen (530p), was to enter service in May 2019 and will now begin carrying passengers on July 2, 2019, more than a year late due to shipyard delays. Fridtjof Nansen, a similar vessel will follow.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

FRAM: built 2007 & 276 passengers; 200 pass in Antarctica.

Passenger Profile

An older international passenger list is drawn from Europe, North America and Australia with the main languages aboard being Norwegian and English.

Passenger Decks

7 decks, and two elevators serve every level except top Observation Deck.

Price

$$$  Very Pricey

Included Features

Many itineraries include local flights (not from the U.S.) and perhaps an overnight hotel stay; all shore activities with an English-speaking expedition team; water-resistant winter jackets; tea and coffee. Suite passengers receive complimentary drinks with meals.

Steaming Iceland. * Photo: Shutterstock Hurtigruten

Itineraries
  • Iceland’s diverse landscapes, glaciers, volcanoes, hot and cold springs, birdlife, and historic settlements; Greenland’s glaciers, icebergs, fjords, Viking settlements and hiking and partial transits of the Northwest Passage; Spitsbergen (Svalbard)’s wildlife such as musk oxen, Arctic fox and wolf, and polar bear and whaling stations; and northern Norway and its islands and fjords.
  • En route to and from South America and Antarctica, voyages call in a small Canadian maritime ports and cruise along the U.S, East Coast from New England to Florida.
  • Central America (mostly the Gulf of Mexico side); varied Caribbean islands and south to the Panama Canal and a transit.
  • Some voyages head south from the Panama Canal along South America’s west coast calling in Ecuador, Peru (incas), Chile’s fjords and the southerly Patagonia region with its spectacular scenery. Other sail via the reast coast calling at Brazilian ports.
  • Antarctic expeditions leave mostly from from Ushuaia, Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula while longer trips include the Falklands and South Georgia to see polar landscapes, icebergs of varying colors, glaciers, wildlife and birdlife, and a former whaling station on South Georgia. Activities are via Polarcirkel boat and, kayaks, and on foot.

Penguins galore, Antarctica. * Photo: Hurtigruten

Why Go?

The FRAM is a highly professional operation, organized by Norwegians who have had a lot of experience operating expeditions that began in the early 20th century. The ship is purpose-built and not a conversion from some other use nor operated on standard cruises. As one of the larger such ships, she handles rough seas about as well as any of her ilk.

When to Go?

Itineraries are arranged to operate in the warmer seasons for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins having a noisy discussion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins having a noisy discussion. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cabins

127 compact outside and inside cabins, with six cabins having shared balconies facing aft; one suite and standard cabins with one bed and one fold-up sofa bed or two sofa beds. Cabins are similar to the newer Hurtigruten coastal ships. Amenities are showers, TVs and mini-fridges. No dedicated singles.

Public Rooms

The décor reflects the culture of Norway and Greenland. Layout is also much like the newer Hurtigruten coastal ships with a large Deck 6 observation lounge, lobby lounge and arcade, two lecture rooms, fitness room, two Jacuzzis, and two saunas. There’s an open promenade deck, open Sun Deck and Observation Deck, plus an Internet Café and shop for clothing and souvenirs.

Dining

Restaurant is aft with both buffet breakfasts and lunches and served dinners. Local dishes will include fish and bison. Food is average to good. A Bistro serves food informally at an extra charge. Because of high taxes, alcohol is very expensive.

Activities & Entertainment

Landings are via Polarcirkel landing craft equipped with “step-bow and grab railings” for easier and safer disembarkations on land. Organized special interest talks take place during the days at sea and in the evenings.

Special Note: Smoking is allowed out on deck only.

*NORDSTJERNEN: Expedition Ship

While no longer in Hurtigruten’s coastal program, the entry remains as she undertakes summer cruises to the North of Norway and Spitsbergen.

Nordstjernen, built 1956, taken in an earlier guise in Hurtigruten service. * Photo: Ted Scull

Nordstjernen, built 1956, taken in an earlier guise in Hurtigruten service. * Photo: Ted Scull

Spitsbergen expedition cruises operated by the 1956-built NORDSTJERNEN operate separately from Hurtigruten’s programs and not always for the English-speaking market. See the website for details then contact the link below*. She is a gem of the classic mailship design that even predated the much-loved LOFOTEN. Within her classic lines are a forward observation lounge, bar, restaurant and small cabins, with and without private facilities, totaling 150 berths.

Her Spitsbergen  cruises  last six days and leave from Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen to look for wildlife – polar bears, walrus and varieties of birds, and with calls in a Barentsberg, a Russian mining community, Ny-Alesund, a former coal mining town and now a High Arctic Research Facility, and Magdalenfjord for the remains of a whaling community. The northern Norway itineraries leave from Tromso for the Lofoten Islands, the historically important port of Narvik, Vesteralen Region and several additional islands. It’s the rugged and wild landscapes that are the main attractions. On the Hurtigruten website, see Ships, then chose NORDSTJERNEN and have a look at The Handbook. *Then if interested go to usbooking@hurtigruten.com.

Along the Same Lines

The classic coastal ships are unique, while the expedition ships are equivalent to other high-end expedition lines.

Contact

Hurtigruten (Norwegian Coastal Voyages), 1505 Westlake Ave. N #125, Seattle WA 98109;  www.hurtigruten.com.us; 866-552-0371.

— TWS

 

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Hebridean Island Cruises

Hebridean Island Cruises

Based in Great Britain, the independently-owned British cruise line operates a single ship, HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS, a lovely floating country house hotel that has had no equal for three decades in atmosphere or price.

She is based largely in Scotland, with the most frequent base port being Oban, for the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Western Isles, occasional cruises that calls at Northern Ireland’s ports, Ireland, and the Isle of Man, and in 2021, several summertime cruises to the Norwegian Fjords.

This line should not be confused with the pair of 10-passenger yachts operated by Hebrides Cruises.

Note: The rest 2020 season has been cancelled, and the 2021 and 2022 seasons’ itineraries have been announced.  See the website for details, and we will update the review soon.

Hebridean Island Cruises

The Hebridean Princess. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Addendum: Hebridean River Cruises charters the intimate 70-passenger ROYAL CROWN to ply the Belgian and Dutch waterways in the spring and later in the season cruise the Danube between on two cruise between Passau, Germany and Bucharest, Romania. Fares include transfers between Britain and the riverboat, shore excursions, wines and spirits, internet and WiFi, and gratuities. See the website for additional details.

Note: The shortened 2020 season is expected to resume on 7th October.

Cocktail hour on the after deck anchored off Ireland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cocktail hour on the after deck anchored off Ireland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS (Built 1964 as COLUMBA and rebuilt into a cruise ship in 1989 & 50 passengers)

Passenger Profile

Mainly British aged 50+ with many repeat passengers and occasionally Americans and other Europeans, Australians.

Passenger Decks

5, no elevator

Price

$$$  Very pricey, yet lots of included features.

Itineraries

Cruises operate from March to November to include lots of itineraries amongst Scotland’s Inner and Outer Hebrides, and depending on the year to Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Ireland, South of England, the Channel Islands, French coastal ports, and via the Shetlands and Orkney thence across the North Sea to Norway’s coast and fjords. In any one season, no cruise is repeated. Here are samplings of  itineraries and be sure to check the line’s website for all the wonderful options.

Scotland, Hebridean Island Princess

Eilean Donan, Scotland * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

 

  • Secret Gardens of the Western Seaboard (7 nights) round trip from Oban, Scotland visiting Plockton, Loch Ewe, Ullapool, Skye, Mull, and Ft. William.
  • St. Kilda and Islands on the Edge (7 nights) from Oban, Scotland to Colonsay, Tiree,  St. Kilda (the most western isle), Lewis (Callanish Stones), Shiant Islands, Eigg,  and return to Oban.
  • Pearls of the Irish Sea  (7 nights) from Oban, Scotland to Islay, Bangor, Isle of Man, Cockermouth, Larne, Jura, and return to Oban.
  • Sea Lochs of the Lower Clyde (6 nights) from Greenock ( near the mouth of the Clyde) to Rothesay, Troon, Port Ryan, Holy Isle, Holy Loch and a return to Greenock.
  • Two cruises, marked as Spring Surprise and Autumn Surprise, are seven-night Hebridean itineraries decided upon by the captain. They leave from and arrive back at Oban and are popular with repeat passengers who like the ship so much that they don’t mind where she goes. Footloose indicates a focus on walking and hiking outings.
  • 2021 will see a return to Norway, a North Sea crossing to and from little and will known fjords and inlets and island between Bergen and Stavanger and a pair of cruises based at Bergen.

 

St. Kilda is a famous birding island in the far Western Isles.

St. Kilda is a famous birding island in the far out Western Isles.* Photo: Ted Scull.

Special interest cruises include: hiking (marked Footloose), golf, gardens, wildlife and nature, world and highland heritage, architecture, art, classical music, Scottish food and drink; bicycles available. Look for designations.

Generally, the vessel either docks or anchors at night and travels during breakfast or lunch to the next location. Occasional overnight sails take place when the itinerary stretches south to and from English Channel ports.

Included Features

All drinks; tips; shore excursions; bicycles; speed boat rides; fishing trips; Internet; transfers between airports and railway stations; free parking.

Why Go?

If you crave an authentic upscale Scottish country hotel atmosphere and would like it to move about seeking the most wondrous and obscure locales in the northern British Isles, this is your conveyance, and it is limited to 50 like-minded souls. Additional cruises, depending on the year, head south to Ireland, Wales, Channel Islands, South of England, Channel Islands and French coastal ports and coastal Norway.

Most amazingly, the HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS was created from a hard-working, well-engineered ferry that plied the Western Isles for a quarter century before being transformed into something quite different, yet retaining much of its traditional profile. Ted slept aboard her in one of the tiny below deck cabins as a ferry and returned for two wonderful cruise voyages in island-studded Scotland and coastal Ireland.

Scotland. Hebridean Island Cruises

Some cruises specialize in hiking. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

When to Go?

The weather in the British Isles is notoriously fickle, so you take your chances. You won’t find a cozier ship to retreat into on a foul day.

Cabins

All accommodations are individually decorated in beautiful colors and fabrics and are named after Scottish isles, castles, lochs and sounds, with wildly varying layouts. Many are roomy for a small ship, and those without windows have portholes, while six are inside without natural light. Beds may be king-size or twins, double or single. Two cabins have private balconies and ten are singles. Cabins along with the bathrooms were refitted for the 2019 season.

Cabin: Isle of Danna. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Above: Cabin: Isle of Danna. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

 

Renovated cabin - Isle of bute

Renovated cabin – Isle of Bute – use of Scottish plaids and Harris tweed

Amenities include a dressing table, ample storage space, fridge stocked with soft drinks, milk, coffee/tea making facilities, TV, personal safe, hairdryer, trouser press, iron and ironing board, bathrobes and slippers.

Public Rooms

In the forward-facing Tiree Lounge, the ship excels in that special small country hotel feeling with a brick and timber fireplace, comfy sofas and chairs and a cozy bar in one corner. The snug library draws readers to its tartan upholstered and leather seating, and two sides lounges — the Look-Out and wicker-furnished Conservatory are venues for morning coffee and afternoon tea.

In fine weather, passengers gather on the open afterdeck for pre-dinner cocktail receptions with hot hors d’oeuvres. On the topmost Boat Deck, windbreaks protect partitioned sections furnished with sun loungers and chairs.

Hebbridean Island Cruises

A cozy light-filled lounge. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Dining

The restaurant, refurbished for the 2019 season, operates like a hotel dining room with tables for two or up to eight for those traveling together. Single passengers sit at an officer’s table. Presentation and service from a European staff are tops with the menu thoroughly British such as a Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding and sliced duckling , while Scottish specialties may be highland game, sautéed and smoked salmon, and fresh oysters. You might wish to, or not, sample haggis, a concoction of calf or lamb hearts, lungs and liver with onion, suet and seasonings and kedgeree made from rice and smoked fish. Dinner sees men in jackets and ties with women in equivalent attire; some are formal nights.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Restaurant. * Photo: Hebridean Island Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

Shore trips (included) visit near and remote islands, castles, stately homes, and gardens, fishing villages and for walks of varying difficulty on rugged islands. The ship is also equipped bicycles for touring and fishing tackle, so you can try your luck.  In Scotland and Ireland, be prepared for Scottish mists and uncertain weather. Entertainment aboard is geared toward individual musicians.

Activities: How about enjoying a read on the top deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Staying aboard and enjoying a read on the top deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

Children under the age of nine not accepted. With a high rate of British repeaters, Anglophilia helps.

Along the Same Lines

Equally small and less pricey ships of Hebridean Cruises, Magna Carta Steamship Company, and The Majestic Line.

Contact

Hebridean Island Cruises, Kintail House, Carleton New Road, Skipton, Yorkshire BD23 2DE, www.hebridean.co.uk; from the US 011 44 (0)756 704 704, UK 01756 704 704; Also, contact a US rep. at 877-600-2648. Be sure to mention promo code HEB2020.

— TWS

 

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Pitcairn Islands

Pitcairn Island Silver Supporter

With its official status as a British Overseas Territory, the UK government subsidies a regular shipping service on specific Tuesdays from the port of Mangareva, French Polynesia, (connecting with Air Tahiti flights from Papeete, Tahiti) to Pitcairn Island. The Gibraltar-registered cargo-passenger ship SILVER SUPPORTER carries 12 passengers in snug double cabins with portholes.

The passage takes two nights and a day (about 32 hours), and disembarkation at Pitcairn Island is into a long boat. Arriving at the Botany Bay landing, it is then a steep cliff by twisting road up to Adamstown where houses dot the wooded hillside.

Until very recently, I had noooo idea that remote — and I mean beyond-anyone’s-horizon remote — Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific, the home of the descendants of the HMS Bounty’s mutiny, could be accessed by a scheduled passenger-carrying ship.

Remote Pitcairn Island

The gorgeous remote Pitcairn Island. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

The volcanic island’s rugged tropical beauty is home to a population that numbers just 50. Measuring just two miles (3.2 km) by one mile (1.6 km), the island is the centerpiece to the world’s largest marine reserve. Its clear waters are home to species that have yet to be all identified.

Note: The new supply ship, Silver Supporter, replaced the Claymore II in 2019. Go straight to the island website for more info.

Now you know how far away you are. * Photo: Pitcairn Island Tourism

Now you know how far away you are. * Photo: Pitcairn Island Tourism

Ship & Year Delivered

SILVER SUPPORTER (built 1998 & 12 passengers in cabins) had a previous career as a Norwegian supply ship and was converted into a passenger-carrying cargo ship with the completion in February 2019. The ship is 1,109 GT and sails at 10 knots.

Pitcairn Islands

Silver Supporter carries 12 passengers and a crew of five. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Passenger Decks

There are three decks and no elevator.

Passenger Profile

SILVER SUPPORTER carries local islanders leaving and returning home, service providers, and well-heeled adventurers who wish to visit one of the most remote places on earth. The ship’s five-member crew hails from New Zealand.

Price

$$$ Very pricey

Itineraries

The ship sails from Mangareva to Pitcairn on Tuesdays from one to four times a month, so an island stopover needs to be timed for the return voyage. The length of the stopovers would be four, 11 or 18 days. If “Supply Ship” appears in the schedule, that is available only to Pitcairn Island residents and families who receive special rates.

Additional visitors arrive at Pitcairn by private yacht and aboard the occasional cruise ship.

Staying Ashore on Pitcairn

The time on the island, while the ship is anchored and handling the cargo, can be four days or if staying over and taking the next return voyage, then 11 days. Daily home-stay accommodations range from USD $70 to $150 and include three meals.

Payment is in cash in USD (there are ATM machines and currency exchange at the Government Treasury Office).

There are 12 registered accommodation providers that range from offering private rooms and meals shared with the family, semi-private chalets with optional shared meals, and private bungalows with meals taken separately. Food is available at the general store, a government operation in Adamstown. Apply for accommodations on the website at the bottom of this review.

Included Features

On board SILVER SUPPORTER, all meals, non-alcoholic drinks and snacks (alcohol is BYO); plus transfers to and from home stay accommodations on Pitcairn.

Why Go?

Go to visit one of the most remote places on the globe and make first-hand contact with direct descendants from the HMS Bounty who landed here in January 1790. The original population comprised 9 male British mutineers under the command of Fletcher Christian and 18 male and female Polynesians. In the 1930s, the population peaked at 233, and it has since dropped below 50. The island encourages immigration as you will discover on the website.

rugged Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Island is a very special place. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

On the island, activities include self-guided walks through the tropical paradise with maps provided, quad bike tours, visiting the Pitcairn Museum, fishing in longboats, diving to the two shipwrecks (Bounty and Cornwallis), visiting three nearby uninhabited islands, swimming, tennis and shopping for island curios.

The island is increasingly dependent on tourism, though numbers are relatively low compared to other South Pacific islands.

When to Go?

The climate on Pitcairn is tropical and rain falls year-round; the driest month is August and the wettest June. It is best to avoid June and perhaps the few weeks either side. The roads and tracks turn to mud.

Cabins

Six private cabins with have twin berths, en suite facilities and small windows or portholes, plus a small sitting/office area.

cabin on Pitcairn Island's Silver Supporter

Twin-bed cabin with a small window and en suite facilities. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Cabin lounge area on Pitcairn Island's Silver Supporter

A cabin’s lounge area. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Public Rooms

There are two lounges, one with a 49″ LED TV with USB + DVD Players.

Lounge of Silver Supporter

Silver Supporter’s newly refitted lounge. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Dining

Enjoy locally-sourced fish and vegetables and from overseas (often New Zealand). Food could be described as South Seas — continental and New Zealand served buffet style at fixed hours. Breakfast 7:30am; Lunch 11:30am; Dinner 5:30pm. Snacks and soft drinks available at all times.

Dining area on Pitcairn Island's Silver Supporter

Dining area with service buffet style. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Activities & Entertainment

Reading, watching films, socializing and relaxing.

Special Notes

No visa is required if staying on Pitcairn less than 15 days.

You need *XPF 1000 French Pacific Francs (about USD $10.50) to pay for the transfer from the Mangareva airport(Gambier Islands French Polynesia) to the ship and then $50 USD for a landing fee on Pitcairn. Medical insurance is mandatory, including an evacuation clause, with proof when finalizing the booking. The island currency is the NZ $.

*XPF is the currency code for “French Pacific Francs,” or CFP (which originally stood for Colonies Françaises du Pacifique  or “French colonies of the Pacific”), the currency used by the four French overseas collectivities that include French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis, and Futuna.

Along the Same Lines

Now that St. Helena in the South Atlantic is linked by air, one would have to search hard to find a comparable multi-night ship to a remote island of any interest. The South Pacific would be the place to start.

Pitcairn Island group's Henderson Island

The Pitcairn Islands group comprises Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands. Here is gorgeous Henderson island, a UNESCO World Heritage site. * Photo: Pitcairn Islands Tourism

Contact

For more info, go to Pitcairn Islands Tourism.

— TWS

 

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Poseidon Expeditions

Poseidon Expeditions was founded in 1999 by Nikolay Saveliev as Poseidon Arctic Voyages. Registered in the UK, the company operated its first voyage in 2001 aboard the nuclear-powered icebreaker YAMAL. Expedition voyages center on the Arctic Region, including multiple annual departures sailing directly to the North Pole, and to Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia.

The firm currently charters two fine ships, the 114-passenger suite ship SEA SPIRIT, and 50 YEARS OF VICTORY, nuclear-powered and the world’s most powerful icebreaker, also with excellent accommodations for 128 passengers. The latter is a working ship at other times of the year, and she can break through ten feet of ice (3 meters). In the printed brochure, members of expedition teams are featured right up front with brief bios and their expertise.

Sea Explorer. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sea Explorer. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

SEA SPIRIT (built 1991 with recent major renovation, 114 passengers) and 50 YEARS OF VICTORY (b. 2007, 128 p).

Passenger Profile

Active people from Europe, Australia, the Far East and the US/Canada are aged 45 and up. English is the primary language onboard.

Passenger Decks

SEA SPIRIT: elevators operate between all 5 decks. 50 YEARS OF VICTORY: elevators link the four cabin and public room decks but not the bridge nor the pool and sauna located aft on the lowest of the six decks.

Price

$$ to $$$ Expensive to Super Pricey (North Pole expeditions)

Included features

One pre-voyage hotel night (most departures), all regular excursions*, foul weather parkas with destination patches, free loan of Wellington boots for Zodiac landings­, and digital voyage log. * Helicopter flights included for North Pole expeditions but not flights to Murmansk to join/leave ship.

Spitsbergen (Svalbard) - Curious polar bear comes up to the bow of the ship. * Photo: Ted Scull

Spitsbergen (Svalbard) – Curious polar bear comes up to the bow of the ship. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries:
  • Arctic: SEA SPIRIT operates a program of 10-to 15-day expeditions in June and August/September that visit Iceland, including the Northern Lights, Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen (Svalbard); Spitsbergen and Franz Josef Land (Russia); Spitsbergen circumnavigations; Iceland and east Greenland. Most expeditions feature photography (free) and kayaking (a fee). En route north for the Arctic season, in May the ship will embark in Plymouth, South of England and visit sites in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, ending at Leith, the port for Edinburgh. A second cruise begins in early June at Leith and subsequently calls Jan Mayen Island, and disembarking in Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen. After a series of Spitzbergen itineraries, the ship heads for Franz Josef Land. Expedition dates are available for the 2020 season.
  • North Pole: 50 YEARS OF VICTORY operates three 13-day expeditions in July and the beginning of August to the North Pole starting with a flight from Helsinki to Murmansk (Russia) then boarding the ship to sail 90 degrees north and onto the North Pole with a return via the uninhabited Franz Josef Land to look for polar bears and sea birds and stop at an abandoned meteorological station. All North Pole trips feature photography lessons and helicopter sightseeing (included), barbecue, and an optional polar plunge. Note: A Russian visa is required for this expedition.
  • Antarctica: SEA SPIRIT spends a full season with departures from late October onto late February undertaking 11-day Antarctica Peninsula cruises and several 20- and 21- expeditions to the Antarctic Islands and Antarctic Peninsula, the Falklands, and South Georgia. One cruise crosses the Antarctic Circle to 66 degrees South, now that’s about as far south as it gets! All cruises begin at Ushuaia, Argentina, except the first and last of the season that use Puerto Madryn, Argentina. Some Antarctica trips feature photography lessons (free), kayaking amongst the ice (a fee), and how about overnight camping on the White Continent (a fee). Expedition dates are available for the 2020-2021 season
Sea Spirit in Antarctica.* Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sea Spirit in Antarctica.* Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Why Go?

Few expeditions go directly to 90 Degrees North, where you can stand at the North Pole and be photographed from the air. The other destinations such as Greenland and South Georgia are little visited, and often arriving by ship is the best or only way.

Drop anchor and go ashore where roads and air access do not exist. If you want to feel that you are truly away from your normal routine, then one of the expedition-style voyages is for you.

When to Go?

The itineraries operate seasonally according to the most advantageous times of the year, so generally the Arctic Region in the summer and Antarctica in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer.

Poseidon Expeditions

50 YEARS OF VICTORY. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Cabins

SEA SPIRIT: All accommodations are designated as suites, all outside, and with dimensions 215, 250, 277, 353 and 437 sq. ft. The largest two categories have balconies. Twin beds convert to king-size. Amenities are TV/VCR, refrigerator, Internet Access. The headboards are partitioned mirrored glass panels.

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: Cabins are located amidships and forward, all outside and originally designed for officers and top staff who would spend months aboard breaking ice so there are desks and plenty of storage space. Windows open. The smallest are 151 sq. ft., while the rest range from 237-355 sq. ft. All have TV/DVD and only the smallest categories do not have a fridge.

Public Rooms

SEA SPIRIT: All public rooms are located aft while suites are amidships and forward. The Presentation Lounge is set up for lectures and video presentations, and above that, the Club Lounge is for socializing, with a bar and an adjacent library lounge with books on exploration and wildlife as well as for general reading. Outside deck space circles the ships so viewing locations span 360 degrees.

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: On one deck, the Victory Bar looks over the bow while, the library and lounge are just aft and the second lounge and bar are all the way aft and used for lectures and presentations. There is plenty of deck space for viewing. For both ships, the bridge, often open to passengers, is a spacious additional focus to learn about navigation and chat with the officers.

Dining

SEA SPIRIT: The main restaurant is on the lowest passenger deck and seats all at one sitting. The food is good, varied and as fresh as it can be when sailing in remote locations. In addition, an outdoor bistro serves lunch most days from a covered buffet section, and tables are arranged on the adjacent deck.

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: There is a single restaurant accommodating all passengers at one sitting. As the crew is both Russian and from other European countries, the meals will partially reflect these nationalities.

Taking sight on a polar bear. * Photo: Ted Scull

Taking sight on a polar bear. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment

SEA SPIRIT: The principal emphasis are the outdoor activities relating to the destinations such as the Zodiac trips in search of wildlife and for going ashore to local communities, beauty spots and onto the ice with destinations such a penguin colonies, and even the North Pole! On board, the presentations and recaps tie in with what happens ashore. The ship is equipped with a gym and hot tub. During the evening hours, a pianist provides light entertainment.

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: Designed for long periods at sea, the ship is equipped with a massage room, gym, two saunas and heated outdoor saltwater pool, and not often found, a basketball and volleyball court. The ship carries a helicopter on an after deck.

Embarking into Zodiacs. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions.

Embarking into Zodiacs. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions.

Special Notes

Read carefully what the line suggests you bring and don’t burden yourself with too much unnecessary luggage. Excursions ashore in these remote parts as well as activities such as kayaking and helicopter sightseeing are subject to weather and wind conditions.

SEA SPIRIT was refitted during a drydocking in spring 2019 with a more effective set of stabilizers to reduce rolling while underway, drifting and when anchored.

Along the Same Lines

Other high-end expedition lines.

Contact

USA & CANADA — Poseidon Expeditions, 245 Waterman St., Suite 502, Providence, RI 02906; 347-801-2610.

UK — Poseidon Expeditions, 13 John Prince’s Street, London W1G 0JR  poseidonexpeditions.com,  +44 020 3369 0020.

Check the website for additional offices in Germany, Cyprus and China.

TWS

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The Majestic Line

The Majestic Line specializes in small-boat cruises in Argyll, Western Scotland and the Hebridean isles, using two converted fishing boats and two custom-designed steel hulled gentleman’s motor yachts. While there is an outlined itinerary for every departure, the exact coastal and island calls and their sequence are dependent on the fickle Scottish weather. As the boats carry 11 and 12 passengers only, a cruise is very much a shared experience in close quarters. Every cruise has two single cabins offered and the booking chart shows availability.

If you ever wanted to explore Scotland’s coast line and the highly varied Hebridean Islands without fussing over ferry schedules for your rented car or resorting to a confining bus tour with too many others, HERE’s your answer, a local firm with a trio, soon to be a quartet, of wee ships.

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Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

GLEN MASSAN (built 1975 & converted 2005 & 11 passengers); GLEN TARSAN (b. 1975 & converted 2007 & 11p); GLEN ETIVE (b. 2016 & 12p); and GLEN SHIEL (b. 2019 & 12p).

The Majestic Line

Majesty Line’s trio at the dock before the GLEN SHIEL was delivered in 2019. * Photo: Majesty Line

Passenger Decks

Three decks and no elevator.

Passenger Profile

Primarily from Great Britain, ages 50 and up. Children under 12 not accepted unless part of a charter.

Price

$$$ Very pricey

Itineraries

GLEN MASSAN and GLEN TARSAN offer short-break 3-night and longer 6-night cruises and GLEN ETIVE 6- and 10-night cruises from Western Scotland to lochs and town landings in Argyll and trips out to the Inner and Outer Hebrides. In all, 14 different itineraries are offered with departures from April to October.

Nearly all embark and disembark in Oban, a port with ScotRail connections to the rest of Britain. Exceptions are one-way trips between Oban and Inverness and the first cruise of the season leaving from Holy Loch, Dunoon, Majestic Line’s base of operations.

The vessels usually anchor by dinnertime in a secluded setting, and get underway after breakfast. If the next stop is a bit further on, then the boat may depart before breakfast. GLEN SHIEL added the mix of itineraries in 2019, and her slightly higher speed allows for more far-ranging destinations.

In 2020, Argyll and the Clyde will be featured at the beginning and end of the season on 6-night cruises. As most of the route is along the river and into sheltered lochs it should be smooth sailing. Highlights are picturesque town of Rothesay, Loch Fyne’s access to Inverarary, Mount Stuart Mansion House, Carrick Castle and the narrow channel to the Kyles of Bute.

puffins on lunga

Puffins on Lunga. * Photo: The Majestic Line

Included Features

Good selected wines at dinner. The tender may be used for exploring at no extra cost while traditional shore excursions do not exist. With maps and guidance from the crew, passengers go ashore independently to visit towns and take walks.

Why Go?

Scotland is beautiful when the weather cooperates and is noted for its dramatic seascape scenery in many different lighting conditions, deep lochs to explore (similar to Norway’s fjords), a multitude of varied islands, castles and proud Scottish clans.

Wildlife is seen in the air, on the sea and on land during walks. Circumnavigate the Isle of Skye, cross Scotland via the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness and cruise out into the Atlantic to see the world’s largest gannetry hosting 60,000 pairs living and breading on isolated island of St. Kilda.

Iona. * Photo: Majestic Line

Iona. * Photo: The Majestic Line

When to Go?

With Scotland’s reputation for unpredictable and constantly varying weather, there is no best time. Be prepared for chilly and windy conditions at any time of the year as well as long days of sunlight in May and into August.

Cabins

The vessels are small hence the cabins are compact with either twin or double-bed configurations. Two singles are available on every cruise with no supplement. The newer GLEN ETIVE and GLEN SHIEL (2019) have larger cabins. All cabins are outside and feature en suite showers, toilets and washbasins.

Cabin on Glen Etive. * Photo: Majestic Line

Cabin on GLEN ETIVE. * Photo: The Majestic Line

Public Rooms

A passenger lounge with bar service, dining room, and open deck space. At times, the wheelhouse is open to visitors, and the crew is happy to share knowledge of navigation and geography. You might even have a hand at the wheel.

Dining

Communal table seats all. Typical meal times are: breakfast 8-9am; lunch 1pm; afternoon tea at 4pm; and dinner 7:30pm. Wine is included with dinner. Main courses feature local fish and shellfish (crabs and sometime lobsters), beef, lamb and venison all sourced locally. With so few to cook for, meals are a craft and a treat. An outside table may also be available when the weather is conducive.

Dining on Glen Tarsan. * Photo: Majestic Line

Dining saloon on GLEN TARSAN. * Photo: Majestic Line

Activities & Entertainment

On board, activities are board games, puzzles, and videos or relaxing and reading from the library selections. The tender takes passengers ashore to land on a beach or to a dock with sightseeing aids for creating short walks or longer hikes of one to two hours. Occasionally a one-way hike starts with a drop-off at the start and a pickup in an altogether different spot. Passengers may also fish, mostly for mackerel, or help lower and raise the lobster pots, and most likely the catch will be crabs.

Special Notes

All four vessels are available for charter, and such an arrangement can be researched first by looking at the cabin availability on the annual cruise schedule. No bookings indicate a charter may be possible, and rates are discounted by 10%. GLEN ETIVE and GLEN SHIEL (2019) have stabilizers and is used for longer trips that might encounter some choppy seas such as to the Outer Hebrides and to remote St. Kilda truly out in the Atlantic.

The Majesty Line's Glen Shiel

The Glen Shiel joined the Majesty Line fleet in 2019! * Photo: The Majesty Line

Along the Same Lines

Hebridean Island Cruises‘ 49-passenger HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS also cruises in Scotland’s Western Isles; as does an equally small pair operating for Hebrides Cruises; and the single vessel, LORD OF THE GLEN, for the Magna Carta Steamship Company. Also check out Argyll Cruising and St Hilda Sea Adventures, a pair of wonderful companies with charming vessels cruising Scotland.

Contact

The Majestic Line, Unit 3, Holy Loch Marina, Sandbank, Dunoon PA23 8FE Argyll, Scotland; +44 (0) 1369 707 951 or www.themajesticline.co.uk.

— TWS

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Pandaw Cruises

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QuirkyCruise ReviewQuirkyCruise Review of Pandaw River Cruises

Pandaw has been offering high-quality expedition-style river cruises in Asia aboard traditional-style boats for more than 25 years. The growing fleet comprises similar-looking colonial-style teakwood riverboats built in Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos in the spirit of the 19th-century Scottish-crafted paddle steamers that plied Burma’s rivers at the height of the British Empire.

Each boat carries 10 to 60 passengers and has an ultra-shallow draft, two or three decks, and flat tops so they can slip under bridges and easily navigate small rivers, even when water levels are low. Wood-paneled nautical-style cabins are roomy and very comfortable and meals are tasty enough.

In every way, the Pandaw River Cruises experience is solid, authentic and eminently comfortable just like the boats, with the focus on the destination, not fussy décor or cloying service. Step on board and breathe in the refreshing scent of teak wood before wiping your sweaty brow with a chilled face towel handed out by crew at the gangway.

The company was founded in 1995 by Scotsman and Burma historian Paul Strachan with the re-building of an original Clyde-built steamer called PANDAW 1947, one of the last boats built for the original Irrawaddy Flotilla Company founded by Scots merchants in 1865. The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company was once the finest river fleet in the world with some 500 vessels that carried passengers and cargo, from bags of rice to blocks of jade, silk, tobacco and whisky, on Burma’s Irrawaddy and other rivers from the 1860s until the Japanese invasion in WWII when the British scuttled virtually the entire fleet to keep it out of enemy hands.

Family-run Pandaw was the first company to offer expeditions on both the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers and continues to stay true to its mission of building smaller ships, even as other companies build bigger ones, to offer river adventures in remote areas, especially in Myanmar and more recently in Laos. In 2015, Strachan published a book called The Pandaw Story about his adventures, Pandaw, and the history and culture of Myanmar. He’s also written guides to Bagan’s art and architecture.

Pandaw River Cruises on the Orient Pandaw

The embarkation adventure is half the fun! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger Count

Divided into two classes, the river boats number 16:

The smaller two-deck “K” class river boats — ANGKOR PANDAW (built 2012, 32 passengers), KALAW PANDAW (b. 2014, 36 p), KALAY PANDAW (b. 2013, 10 p), KATHA PANDAW (b. 2011, 28 p), KHA BYOO PANDAW (b. 2014, 20 p), KINDAT PANDAW (b. 2014, 36 p), ZAWGYI (b. 2014, 20 p), LAOS PANDAW (b. 2015, 20 p), CHAMPA PANDAW (b. 2016, 28 p) and SABAIDEE PANDAW (b. 2018, 24 p). On November 7, 2019, the KANEE PANDAW (28 passengers) takes delivery of the latest “K” vessels for Irrawaddy cruises between Prome north of Rangoon and Mandalay and the Great Irrawaddy Delta.

The larger three-deck “P” class river boats — BASSAC PANDAW (b. 2012, 60 p), INDOCHINA PANDAW (b. 2009, 60 p), MEKONG PANDAW (b. 2003 & totally refitted in 2013, 48 p), ORIENT PANDAW (b. 2008, 60 p), PANDAW II (b. 2002, 48 p), and TONLE PANDAW (b. 2002 & totally refitted in 2013, 56 p).

In addition, Pandaw introduced the coastal cruiser ANDAMAN EXPLORER built for the Norwegian coast guard in 1963 and subsequently converted to a luxury yacht before passing to Pandaw. She carries 20 passengers in ten suites, nine of which have double beds and one twins).

Passenger Profile

Mostly couples, with some singles, in their 50s on up from the UK, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe mostly. Not recommended for children under age 12 or for anyone with trouble walking, as getting on and off the ships usually involves walking across narrow gangways and up and down muddy embankments.

Pandaw River Cruises aboard the Orient Pandaw

Watching the world go by from the bow of the Orient Pandaw. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Passenger Decks

2 or 3; no elevators

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features

All excursions led by a local tour guide who travels with the boat, bottled water and tips, though many passengers do leave something extra in the communal tip box at the end of the cruise.

Reasonably priced drinks package are offer for house wines, free-flow drinks (minus wine), and free-flow drinks including house wines.

Itineraries

The majority of Pandaw’s river expeditions are on three of South-East Asia’s great rivers: the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers in Myanmar, and the Mekong River that flows from China through Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. From time to time the line experiments with new itineraries, for instance in Borneo, offering Pandaw fans great reasons to keep coming back.

A few itineraries venture into northern Vietnam, to Halong Bay and on the Red River that flows past Hanoi into the Gulf of Tonkin. River itineraries in India now number three with three different riverboats. A brand new 10-night itinerary aboard 20-passenger Andaman Explorer sails from the mainland to India’s Andaman Islands, an archipelago rich in its ethnographic mix, biodiversity and marine life. Fly both ways to/from the Andaman’s for a 7-night cruise. Below is an outline of the additional itineraries offered along the coast and to the islands.

  • A wide variety of 1- to 20-night itineraries along the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers includes the popular week-long Bagan to Mandalay runs nearly year-round, with the highlight being Bagan’s stunning profusion of Buddhist pagodas. Shallow draft riverboats allow navigation to Katha, 1000 miles above Rangoon (Yangon) well above Mandalay and past the third and second defiles. Note: These cruises are subject to sufficient depth of water, and the shallow draft of the riverboats deployed on this route is 32 inches or 80 cm.
  • The most popular of the 3- to 14-night Mekong River cruises are the classic week-long journeys between Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, for visits to both rural villages and cities. Most people spend a few days before or after the cruise ogling the stunning monuments of Angkor Wat near Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to take in Vietnam. Other itineraries traverse the more remote Mekong in China and Laos. The boats here have very shallow drafts and powerful engines 3 times the horsepower of the main fleet to “climb” the Laotian Mekong into China.
  • Every year in mid April, May and June, the fleet is taken out of service for maintenance coinciding with the extreme hot weather and very low water levels.
  • The upper Ganges itinerary operates from Kolkata well inland to Varanasi, the lower Ganges, not as far, to Farakka, and a third on the Brahmaputra.
  • The coastal ship ANDAMAN EXPLORER undertakes 7- to 18-day voyages in the Irrawaddy Delta, the length of Myanmar’s coast, amongst the Mergui Archipelago and to India’s Andaman Islands.
  • Note: For Indochina land travelers, Pandaw now offers short, three-day river cruises between Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, passing through the Mekong River Delta with stops at villages and a bird sanctuary. Includes hotel stays at both ends.
Mekong River Cruising

The gorgeous U Min Thone Se Pagoda outside of Mandalay. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Why Go?

To see remote parts of Asia with expert guides on charming period-vessels.

When to Go?

Pandaw cruises July through early April, with water levels the highest and landscape the lushest between about October and February. Even in dry season (March and April), though, the boats with their shallow drafts can navigate the rivers even when waters levels are getting low.

Cabins

Well laid-out with colonial decor, the wood-paneled cabins are roomy with comfy twin captain’s beds with ample storage beneath. There’s a closet, two bedside tables and a small desk. Large glass doors open onto the side promenade decks. Wood paneled bathrooms have very large showers, and shampoo and soap are provided; a few of the older boats, including ORIENT PANDAW, TONLE PANDAW and MEKONG PANDAW have recently refurbished bathrooms with natural stone-clad showers.

Other extras across the fleet include cotton robes, slippers, personal safe, individually controlled AC, and hair dryer. To avoid engine noise, choose a cabin as far forward as possible. There are no TVs and few PA announcements, assuring a peaceful journey.

These ships are not recommended for passengers using wheelchairs, as there are no elevators, only stairs between decks.

Cabins are wood paneled and very comfortable. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Cabins are wood paneled and very comfortable. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Public Rooms

Each has one restaurant, a combination bar and lounge, and lots of covered outdoor space on the uppermost deck for hanging out and scenery viewing. The open design allows air to flow through the vessels providing not only a welcome breeze, but also a stabilizing affect for the boats.

The larger “P” class boats have a third deck and amenities including a massage room, small boutique and art gallery, and a lecture and meeting room with a large flatscreen TV, projector and sound system to show movies about the region after dinner (like Indochine or The Quiet American). One of them, MEKONG PANDAW, has a small gym with cardio machines and weights.

Dining

On the larger ships the restaurant is inside, and depending on the temperature, with large French doors open to the river or closed with air-conditioning; on the smaller ships, they’re open-air on the covered top deck. Meals are served in one open seating at tables for four, six or eight, though different configurations can be made on request if there is space. Breakfast and lunch are semi-buffet and dinners are served.

Cuisine incorporates fruits and vegetables from the region into dishes such as chicken breast stuffed with tea leaves, roast pumpkin, prawn curry, fried rice, and various delicious Asian soups made to order with the ingredients laid out for diners to pick and choose from.

There are also western staples, from scrambled eggs to salads, fish and chips, and pasta. All meals are prepared onboard and nearly 100% of supplies are sourced from local producers in keeping with Pandaw’s commitment to support the local economies.

Meals incorporate local veggies, yum! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Meals incorporate local veggies, yum! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Activities & Entertainment

The boats make at least one stop a day, sometimes two or three. When sailing, most people are content to relax on a padded wooden deck chair or chaise lounge to watch the river traffic and scenery float by.

An expert tour guide from the country visited sails along for the duration of the cruise, leads shore excursions and gives talks on board about various aspects of the destination and local culture, such as demonstrations about how to tie a sarong or make the tree-bark thanaka face paint popular in Myanmar. (On weeklong Mekong itineraries through Cambodia and Vietnam, there is a guide from each country for that half of the journey.)

Generally once or twice per cruise a local dance or singing group, or maybe a troupe of puppeteers, are brought on board to entertain guests after dinner. Otherwise, it’s drinks and chatting about the day’s adventures with new friends before heading off to sleep to rest up before another eventful day begins.

Along the Same Lines

In Myanmar, Paukan and Belmond offer the closest equivalent to Pandaw, and on the Mekong River, Heritage Line does.

Contact

Pandaw Cruises, www.pandaw.com; information@pandaw.com.

HMS

 

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Galapagos Islands Overview

By Heidi Sarna.

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

The endemic Galapagos marine iguana

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

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

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

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

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

— Galapagos Conservancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ports of Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go

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

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

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

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

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

Company Reviews

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

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

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

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

Eclipse Travel

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

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

Journeys International

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

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

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

Mountain Travel Sobek

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

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

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

Natural Habitat Adventures

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

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

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

Wilderness Travel

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

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

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

Charles Darwin in More Detail 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Machu Picchu

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

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

 

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Emma Jane at Staffa

Hebrides Cruises

Hebrides Cruises is a small family-operated line that currently operates two vessels taking just 8 to 10 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.

Hebrides Cruises the Shiant Isles

Cruising the Shiant Isles in the Hebrides. * Photo: James Fairbairns for Hebrides Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

ELIZABETH G was rebuilt in 1995 from a Norwegian rescue vessel and takes 8 passengers; 10 on a charter.

EMMA JANE was purchased in 2016 and began sailing on May 13, 2017 as PROUD SEAHORSE, and then renamed in 2018. She is a mini-cruise vessel and takes 10 passengers.

Both vessels are stabilized.

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.

Elizabeth G & the Emma Jane together

The Elizabeth G & the Emma Jane. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Passenger Profile

Outdoorsy types who love nature and the sea. Children under 12 are not accepted unless it is a full ship charter; same for pets. Crew numbers 4 — captain (“skipper”), 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.

drinks on deck in the Hebrides

Drinks are included in the fares. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

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.

Emma Jane at Staffa

Emma Jane at Staffa in the Inner Hebrides. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

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.

Cliffs of Canna in the Hebrides

The breathtaking Cliffs of Canna. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

common dolphins

Emma Jane with common dolphin from boat tender. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises Wildlife Guide Lynsey Bland

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

ELIZABETH G has four small double cabins for 8 passengers (two with double beds and two with stacked twin beds); and up to 10 passengers for a private charter.

Elizabeth G twin cabin

An Elizabeth G twin cabin. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

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.

Emma Jane cabin

An Emma Jane cabin. * 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

Elizabeth G lounge

The lounge of Elizabeth G. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Dining

Everyone dines at the same time. Sample menus:

Breakfast — Scottish porridge with fruit compote, smoked Scottish salmon or haddock, scrambled eggs, and whole meal toast, and fresh biscuits and muffins. Also dig into Argyll free-range sausages, locally smoked bacon, herb slow roasted tomatoes, and Stornoway black pudding.

Lunch — two courses with soup, salad or sandwiches on freshly baked bread. For example, enjoy a local Scottish salmon and asparagus tart, freshly made Focaccia bread, roasted butternut squash, and a tomato and avocado salad.

Dinner is a set meal by candlelight — locally caught langoustines and scallops or chicken breasts stuffed with haggis or pistachio and mint-crusted rack of Argyll lamb, served with minted new potatoes and seasonal steamed greens. Dessert may be Sicilian lemon tart with mint and Scottish strawberry sorbet, followed by Scottish cheeses with oatcakes and a local chutney, plus  coffee. Vegetarians can enjoy options like aubergine and feta ‘cannelloni’ with a rich basil and tomato ragu, served with seasonal greens.

Hebrides Cruises dinner

Delicious fare, like this crab cake with prawns meal. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

If aboard, there’s a service of morning coffee, afternoon tea and homemade cakes or biscuits. Special diets catered to with advance notice.

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.

Eigg on a Hebrides cruise

Walking on Eigg. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

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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Magna Carta Steamship Company

UPDATE:  Magna Carta Steamship Co Sells Lord of the Glens. by Ted Scull  (Aug 16, 2020) … more details to follow.

Founded in 1999, the Magna Carta Steamship Company the LORD OF THE GLENS, a 27-cabin mini cruiser outfitted with classic interiors, on five- and seven-night cruises, April to October. One-way trips operate between Inverness and Oban via the 60-mile Caledonian Canal or between the coastal community of Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness.

All three ports have train connections to the rest of Scotland, and south to England and Wales. Some mid-summer dates are chartered out to Lindblad Expeditions

Cruise the beautiful Caledonian Canal spanning Scotland from the North Sea to the West Coast and the sheltered Scottish coast aboard a comfy mini cruiser.

Beginning in May 2020, you will have the choice of two vessels when the LORD OF THE HIGHLANDS is delivered.

LORD OF THE GLENS passing Urquhart Castle. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

LORD OF THE GLENS passing Urquhart Castle. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

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Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

LORD OF THE GLENS was originally built in Greece in the 1980s and then rebuilt for the present owners in the year 2000, taking 54 passengers.

Note: In May 2020, the Spanish-built LORD OF THE HIGHLANDS will join the line taking 42 passengers in 21 outside cabins. Details will be added as they become available.

Passenger Decks

4 and no elevator.

Passenger Profile

Americans, Canadians, British and Europeans. Crew is British and European.

Price

$$ to $$$ — Expensive to very pricey.

Included Features

Rates include excursions as outlined in the itinerary and transfers to/from Inverness at the start or end of the cruise. Suggested tipping is GBP 7 per person per day. Limited internet is available and WiFi generally not except in towns.

Itineraries

Two different itineraries are operated.

LORD OF THE GLENS in the Caledonian Canal. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

LORD OF THE GLENS in the Caledonian Canal. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

5 nights: Inverness to Oban via Loch Ness and through the locks of the scenic 19th-century Caledonian Canal. The route through the heart of the Highlands aims southwest to Scotland’s west coast entering the sea via Neptune’s Staircase, a flight of descending locks. The cruise continues to colorful Tobermory, the Isle of Mull for Duart Castle and finally to the port of Oban.

7 nights: Begins similarly then heads out to the Christian site at Iona, the Isles of Eigg and Skye, Eilean Donan Castle, the pretty town of Plonkton and finally to the Kyle of Lochalsh. Bird and sea life sightings are features of this longer cruise.

Docked at Tobermory. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

Docked at Tobermory. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

Why Go?

When the fickle Scottish weather cooperates, the shimmering lochs, deep glens, and high bens (mountains) are magnificent. Spring brings wild flowers and the autumn, an array of color. The landscapes change very quickly as the ship moves along the Caledonian Canal and crosses long deep lochs, including Loch Ness, perhaps the most famous of all.

When to Go?

Magna Carta Steamship Company cruises operate from May to October, and July and August are the busiest months for visits ashore to prime tourist spots. But Scotland is rarely a crowded scene, just the contrary.

Cabins

The 27 cabins (average about 135 sq. ft.) are divided into four categories over three decks and accommodate 54 passengers, all with dressing table, hairdryer, satellite TV, radio, music system, air-conditioning/heating, safe deposit box, and private shower, toilet, and washbasin. Suitcases fit under the beds.

Windows bring in abundant natural light in all rooms apart from four lower deck units with double portholes. Beds are mostly twin.

Alexander Graham Bell cabin. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

Alexander Graham Bell cabin. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

Public Rooms

The highest of the four decks is given over to an observation lounge with a glass domed ceiling and a mahogany-trimmed bar lounge with good views, while the dining room seating all passengers at one time is on the deck below. The forward deck has uninterrupted views ahead and to port and starboard. For ocean liner buffs, some decorative features and some furnishings are from the SS France, RMS Rhodesia Castle and RMS Windsor Castle and the original Orient Express.

Dining

Breakfast (buffet) is available from 7 to 9:30am, lunch 12:30pm and dinner 7:30pm. Scottish produce is featured with angus beef and bounty from the sea. Passengers are asked to choose their entries in advance to give the chef an idea of how much to prepare. Most men wear a jacket to dinner and may dress up a bit more for a special evening.

Bar-Lounge. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

Bar-Lounge. * Photo: Magna Carta SS Co.

Activities & Entertainment

Social life predominates aboard, and ashore with coach drives to castles and beauty spots of this green country, plus walks around pretty towns. A film is screened every night.

Special Notes

With the Scottish cruises of short duration, one week or less, plan on a larger itinerary than might include Glasgow and Edinburgh or even the Outer Hebrides.

Along the Same Lines

Hebrides Cruises, The Majestic Line, Hebridean Island Cruises.

Contact

Magna Carta Steamship Company Ltd, 136 Hamilton Terrace, London NW8 9UX UK; Tel: 020 7372 2077

TWS

 

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Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Expeditions

AQUA EXPEDITIONS began operating a high-end riverboat on the Peruvian Amazon in 2007. Cruises begin and end at Iquitos, Peru and sail to one source of the Amazon and in the vast the Pacaya Samira Reserve seeing wildlife and visiting riverside communities. In 2014, the firm established a second base in South East Asia with cruises along the Mekong aboard the AQUA MEKONG between Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

In November 2019, the AQUA BLU was added to the fleet offering 7- and 12-day Indonesian island cruises from Komodo National Park to Ambon, Spice Islands and Raja Ampat. The 15-suite ship formerly operated as a British Naval Explorer and has been upgraded to yacht standards. A fourth vessel, AQUA NERA, is set to debut in October 2020 to do Peruvian Amazon cruises, replacing the AQUA AMAZON that was lost in July 2016.

Aqua Expeditions operates one of the top river experiences in the lap of luxury along the Amazon and Southeast Asia’s Mekong  and more recently eastern Indonesia. And seeing is believing: visibility through floor-to-ceiling glass is a huge plus.  

See it all through huge windows. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

See it all through huge windows. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

ARIA AMAZON (built 2011 & 32 passengers); AQUA MEKONG (b. 2014 & 40 p); AQUA BLU (b. 1968, converted 2006, refurbished 2019 & 30 passengers); AQUA NERA (to debut Oct 2020 & 40 p).

Passenger Decks

3 Decks, No elevator. AQUA BLU 5 decks.

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Passenger Profile

Guides cater to English, French and German speakers. Children must be at least seven to travel. Interconnecting cabins for families.

Price

Expensive — $$$

Itineraries

Peruvian Amazon Cruises

ARIA AMAZON (and AQUA NERA as of October 2020) make 3- (partial), 4- (partial) and 7-night (combining the two) cruises year-round from Iquitos along several Upper Amazon river tributaries, including the Ucayali and Maranon rivers to the Pacaya Samira Reserve, a five-million-acre flooded rain forest punctuated by black lagoons that dramatically reflect the surrounding trees. Activities visit riverside villages and food markets, and offer hikes in the rain forest and skiffs for water exploration and fishing for piranhas.

Keen eyes look for freshwater pink dolphins, turtles, lizards, caiman, iguanas, and frogs (some poisonous), snakes, sloths, capuchins, squirrel and howler monkeys, terns, toucans, and macaws.

With the cruises of short duration, many travelers choose to add on some of the following: Machu Picchu, Cusco, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Lima and/or Nazca Lines.

Excursions down a scenic Amazon tributary. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Excursions down a scenic Amazon tributary. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, soft drinks, premium wines and craft beers with meals; all excursions and entrance fees; use of bikes and kayaks; and transfers between the boat and airport on company recommended flights. Complimentary laundry service. Tipping is extra and recommended rates are $81-120 for 3 nights and $108-160 for 4 nights including crew and guides.

Why Go?

The outstanding varieties of mammals, birds, and aquatic species seen along the rivers and in the deep rain forests simply are staggering. The riverboats are more than comfortable and allow down time after a day exploring in small craft and on foot.

When to Go?

The cruises operate year-round and the weather is slightly wetter with higher water levels December to May and less rain and lower water levels June to November. The temperature variation is minimal, and the water levels affect how far the skiffs can penetrate the rain forest via narrow tributaries.

Cabins

ARIA AMAZON has 16 cabins with polished wooden floors that measure a generous 250 square feet with beds positioned to face the expansive floor-to-ceiling glass windows flanked by two chairs and a table. With windows like these, you’ll practically feel like you’re IN the river with the wild critters!

AQUA NERA has 20 suites on two decks that measure an even more generous 322 sq. ft., again with large windows.

Aria Amazon's gorgeous rooms. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Aria Amazon’s gorgeous rooms. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Public Rooms

ARIA AMAZON and AQUA NERA have an indoor lounge with large view windows, bar and library selection and a top deck lounge both open and under a canvas awning, especially enjoyable when the boat is underway. AQUA NERA has a screening room and pool table.

Dining

The floor-to-ceiling windows bring in lots of light during meals while passengers dine at tables for two, four or six. AQUA NERA offers indoor or outdoor dining. The stylish settings serve 70% locally sourced fish from the Amazon, fresh fruits and vegetables and premium South American and European wines.

Much effort is put into meal preparation that achieves the best in Peruvian-style cuisine for signature dishes such as Peruvian ceviche, combining a river fish, juicy onions and corn kernels spiced with cilantro and coriander, or plantain and yucca gnocchi, and palm soufflé. Cooking demonstrations reveal the techniques and ingredients.

Dining on Aqua Amazon. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining on the Amazon. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities & Entertainment

The ARIA AMAZON is equipped with a massage room, stationary bicycle and treadmill, and a Jacuzzi on the outdoor lounge deck. AQUA NERA has two spa treatment rooms, gym and plunge pool. Talks by the English-speaking guides take place in the lounge, and passengers go ashore with multiple guides in very small groups (6-8).

The vessel offers two or three excursions daily and aluminium skiffs take no more than eight passengers and are manned by a guide trained to spot animals and birds that might otherwise go unnoticed in murky water and rain forest settings. Kayaks are available.

AQUA NERA has four 10-person aluminum launch boats. Staffing and passenger ratio are one-to-one on both vessels.

Mekong River Cruises

AQUA MEKONG offers 7-night cruises between a docking point near Siem Reap, Cambodia, and My Tho, a Vietnamese port in the delta, with access by bus to and from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the temples of Angkor Wat (in Siem Reap, Cambodia).

The 3- and4-night cruises may start or finish at either end and embark or disembark part way along at Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Because the river cruises are short, consider adding any of these destinations: Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue and Angkor Wat.

Aqua Mekong * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Mekong * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, and soft drinks, wines, and craft beers with meals, all excursions and entrance fees, use of bikes and kayaks, and group transfers.

Why Go?

Both Cambodia and Vietnam are culturally rich in architecture and the arts and crafts, and traveling the Mekong allows close up views of the passing scene with considerable trade plying the river, manufacturing, towns and cities lining the shores, and a chance to tie up and explore markets, watch Buddhist ceremonies, and enjoy a home visit.

Aqua Expeditions

Views from the sundeck. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

When to Go?

Cruises operate year-round with some itinerary adjustments depending on high or low water levels. Rainy season normally extends from November to May. Daytime temperature are cooler. During high water periods, the boat can sail to and from Tonle Sap Lake with easy access to Angkor Wat and into the emerald flooded forest in Vietnam.

Cabins

The accommodations measure a very spacious 320 square feet, and eight have balconies and all floor-to-ceiling windows. Four sets interconnect two suites, for families or for one giant suite for two, and all bathrooms feature twin sinks.

Public Rooms

Indoor spaces are a lounge with bar, a small indoor cinema, and boutique. Outdoors on the Sun Deck are two lounge areas with canopies and bar, sun loungers at one end and sit-up bar and table and chair seating at the other. Staff ratio on AQUA MEKONG is one-to-one.

Aqua Expeditions Mekong lounge

Aqua Mekong’s Indoor Lounge * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining

The setting is sophisticated with large windows giving clear views of the Mekong, where passengers may sit as a couple or at larger tables. Menus feature Vietnamese and Khmer traditions that may include Vietnamese catfish with shallots, chilies and basil; grilled prawns with peanut relish; vegetable dumplings; and chocolate fondant (a tip to French influence in Indochina).

Aqua Expeditions dining room on Mekong

The windowed dining room. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities & Entertainment

From the plunge pool on the Sun Deck, you can look forward; the spa has two treatment rooms, and there is a gym, foosball in the games room cum library, screenings for up to 10 people in the indoor cinema or attended by a larger group out on the covered deck. Four tenders take passengers on river outings and ashore when the boat cannot dock.

Visits are made to plantations, homes, artisan compounds, markets, Buddhist temples, markets with the boat’s chef, and the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh for the Royal Palace, Silver Temple, National Museum and Museum of Genocide. Bicycles are available for guided trips into the countryside, stopping to see farming operations, markets and village life. Motorized tuks tuks venture further.

Indonesia Cruises

AQUA BLU entered service in November 2019 to cruise in Eastern Indonesia. The ship, converted from British Naval Exploration ship now operates as a high-end cruising yacht for 30 passengers in 15 suites.

Aqua Expeditions

AQUA BLU cruises the eastern Indonesian islands. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, and soft drinks, wines, and craft beers with meals, all excursions and entrance fees, use of kayaks, and group transfers.

Why Go?

The cruises in Eastern Indonesia are offered in three different 7-night itineraries, plus connecting voyages:

1) Bali to Komodo National Park, visiting a series of closely packed islands with disembarkation at western tip of Flores Island and in the opposite direction;

2) 7 nights to Ambon and the Spice Islands; and

3) 7 nights to Raja Ampat, a recently popular area of extreme tropical island beauty, rain forests and tropical birds, beaches and coral reefs with abundant marine life at and off the western tip of West Papua.

Komodo National Park

The Moyo Island Waterfall in the Komodo National Park. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

When to Go?

The program is year-round when combining all three repeating itineraries.

Cabins

15 suites are situated on four decks and fall into three categories with two pairs of suites interconnecting, for families or good friends. The accommodations have round, rectangular, and oval windows and portholes.

Aqua Expeditions cabin

Windowed suite on Bridge Deck 1. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Public Rooms

Lounge spaces offer choices between out in the open or beneath a covered deck seating, or totally within A/C room; small library collection and a TV room.

Aqua Expeditions lounge

The ship’s hub, the main lounge. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining

Meals are served in one of two locations, depending on the temperature and weather conditions: open air, including BBQ, or air-conditioned and at both venues open seating. As the ship operates in a tropical island climate, lots of local fish, fruits and vegetables are close at hand in  addition what is supplied to the ship as embarkation ports.

Aqua Expeditions dining

Lovely outdoor dining. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities and Entertainment

Enjoy lectures, videos, snorkeling, and swimming. There’s an exercise room, spa and a pair of outdoor hot tubs.

Aqua Expeditions hot tubs

A pair of dreamy outdoor hot tubs. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Special Note

In July 2016, AQUA AMAZON was lost in an explosion, with deaths and injuries to the crew, while no passengers were aboard.

Along the Same Lines

There is a wide choice of operators in both of Aqua Expeditions’ cruising regions, including Star Clippers, Pandaw, SeaTrek Sailing Adventures, Scenic & AmaWaterways.

Contacts

Go to www.aquaexpeditions.com; USA & Canada: 866-603-3687; UK: +0 808 189 0361; Australia: +1 800 243 152; New Zealand: +0 800 466 098.

 

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GreenTracks

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

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

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

Bora Village, Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

Bora Village, Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

THE AMAZON

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

Passenger Decks

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Price

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

Itineraries

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

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

Amazon riverboat DELFIN II - Green Tracks

Amazon riverboat DELFIN II – Green Tracks

Included Features

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

Why Go?

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

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

Fish market along the Upper Amazon, Iquitos, Peru

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

THE GALAPAGOS

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

Itineraries

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

Included Features

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

Why Go?

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

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

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

When to Go

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

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

Cabins

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

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

Sea Star Journey

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

 

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