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small-ship cruising restarts for Ponant

Small-ship Cruising Restarts

by Anne Kalosh.

SeaDream Yacht Club did embark on the first of 21 Norway-Denmark voyages June 20 as planned, and river cruises are trickling back in Europe. But small-ship cruising restarts in the United States were delayed due to the COVID-19 spike there.

France is expected to allow ocean sailings to begin in the coming days, and Ponant, for one, hopes to be operating nearly all of its ships on coastal cruises in France, in Iceland and the Arctic this summer. Meanwhile, across the globe, Paul Gauguin Cruises’ Tahiti and French Polynesia voyages are imminent.

Americans have the chance to travel to French Polynesia provided, like everyone else under the requirements, they pass a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the flight.

But while the European Union and Schengen countries are beginning to gradually open their borders to travelers from a number of nations this month, Americans are not on the list for now since the U.S. has failed to control COVID-19.

Other non-E.U. countries have similar restrictions. When it comes to Norway, a member of the E.U.’s European Economic Area, the voyages operated by SeaDream are currently open to residents of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Faroe Islands. SeaDream said it looks forward to welcoming travelers from the European Economic Area and Schengen Area starting July 15, provided the countries meet contagion criteria.

Norway-Denmark

SeaDream’s cruises are Norway-intensive, but also visit Skagen in Denmark to satisfy cabotage requirements for foreign-flag ships (SeaDream I and II are registered in the Bahamas). Plus, Skagen is a terrific destination with its charming fishing village atmosphere, sandy beaches and fascinating history as an artists’ colony.

Yet, illustrating the complications of travel in the COVID-19 era, on the first trip, SeaDream passengers were not allowed off the ship there. That’s because Denmark enforced a rule that Norwegians needed to book at least a six-night stay in the country. That rule has just been dropped. However, in another Danish regulation, Swedes from most areas need to present evidence of testing negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours.

small-ship cruising restarts

SeaDream I in Norway. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

France

France is expected to allow the resumption of ocean cruises this month, though at significantly reduced capacity. That puts CroisiEurope and Ponant in good positions, since they operate small ships anyway.

CroisiEurope’s new La Belle des Océans (the former Silver Discoverer) carries 128 passengers, and its Belle de l’Adriatique 197 passengers. Ponant’s new Explorers series ships, like Le Dumont d’Urville, have capacity for 184, while its earlier expedition vessels, such as Le Boréal, carry up to 264 passengers.

As QuirkyCruise previously reported, Ponant aims to deploy six of its ships on five different French coastal itineraries, including one to Corsica, a route also planned by CroisiEurope for La Belle des Océans.

RELATED: Ponant’s Le Jacques Cartier Caps Explorer Series.  by Anne Kalosh  

small-ship cruising restarts in France

Ponant’s Le Bougainville is scheduled to cruise from Bordeaux. * Photo: Philip Plisson:Ponant

Iceland, Svalbard, Russian Arctic

As Seatrade Cruise News has just reported, Ponant hopes to go further afield this summer, too. Le Bellot, its newest Explorer ship, delivered in March, would circle Iceland on weeklong cruises. Iceland is opening to tourism and courting the return of expedition vessels. Foreign-flag expedition ships are allowed to sail in national waters continuously for up to four months in a 12-month period without violating cabotage.

Like Norway, Iceland is not an E.U. member but is integrated through the European Economic Area and Schengen. It’s letting in some nationalities, but not Americans.

Ponant’s Le Boréal is to operate a series of cruises between Reykjavik, Iceland, and Spitsbergen (as earlier reported, Svalbard is opening to expedition sailings with reduced capacity and numerous other precautions). That is to be followed by a Northeast Passage transit and a Russian Arctic voyage.

According to Seatrade, the bulk of Ponant’s bookings are from French, Belgian and Swiss travelers.

small-ship cruising restarts for Ponant

Le Dumont D’Urville will operate from Le Havre this summer. * Photo: Fred Michel for Ponant

European waterways

Besides the resumption of European river sailings by several brands, including CroisiEurope and A-Rosa, European Waterways is reportedly going to get underway this month. Cruise Critic said the barge operator will ramp up with cruises on more than half of its fleet in July with sailings in France, Italy and Ireland. These will be followed by Scotland and England cruises resuming in August.

According to Cruise Critic, European Waterways will be the first river line to welcome Britons.

French Polynesia

Across the globe, Paul Gauguin Cruises is gearing up for Tahiti and French Polynesia voyages starting this month.

French Polynesia is reopening to international tourism on July 15 and Air Tahiti Nui, part of the cruise line’s regular air program, is resuming commercial flights between Los Angeles and Papeete, Tahiti.

Paul Gauguin will sail seven-night “Tahiti & the Society Islands” voyages departing July 11 and July 18 for the local French Polynesian market. These operate round-trip Papeete, with calls at Huahine and Motu Mahana (the line’s private islet off the coast of Taha’a), Bora Bora (two days, with private beach access) and Moorea (two days).

Paul Gauguin Cruises will welcome all travelers on its 10-night “Society Islands & Tuamotus” voyage departing July 29 from Papeete. This includes the same destinations as the seven-night itinerary and adds Rangiroa and Fakarava in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

Then, in August, the line resumes its previously scheduled seven- to 14-night Tahiti, French Polynesia and South Pacific cruises.

small-ship cruising restarts for Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin will soon be sailing to Moorea again, pictured here. Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

U.S. rivers and coasts

If Americans are not widely welcomed abroad yet, they may be able to sail domestically this summer, though the COVID-19 spike stateside has been dashing opportunities so far.

Both American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Co. (AQSC) had hoped to be operating now.

American Cruise Lines aspired to become the first domestic operator back on the rivers with American Song‘s June 20 departure on the Columbia and Snake rivers. But Portland, one of its turnaround cities, didn’t make it out of Phase One reopening.

American’s plans are unclear.

And AQSC’s American Empress, which turns around across the river from Portland, in Vancouver, Washington, had been scheduled to resume July 6.

AQSC delayed the vessel’s Pacific Northwest program through Aug. 2 and postponed American Duchess’s July 20 start on the Mississippi through Aug. 16. A new date for American Empress wasn’t given; American Duchess is now scheduled to resume with the Aug. 17-23 Lower Mississippi voyage from New Orleans to Memphis.

As previously announced, American Countess and American Queen service is suspended through Aug. 8.

RELATED:  Cruising Restarts in Travel Bubbles on Small Ships.  by Anne Kalosh.

small-ship cruising restarts include American Cruise Lines

American Cruise Lines wanted to be the first to resume service stateside but American Song’s June 20 restart was not to be. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

AQSC-Uniworld offer

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting twist: AQSC is offering special pricing to Uniworld Boutique River Cruises travelers impacted by Uniworld’s suspension of summer cruises.

The two companies called AQSC’s itineraries a perfect match for Uniworld’s culturally minded customers who are looking to take a river cruise closer to home this summer.

“We trust AQSC to take excellent care of our guests while we prepare to resume operations in the near future and look forward to sharing a special opportunity for guests of AQSC to expand their love of river cruising abroad in 2021,” Uniworld President and CEO Ellen Bettridge said.

Uniworld will reciprocate with a special offer for AQSC customers to sail in Europe, Russia, China, Vietnam/Cambodia, India, Egypt or Peru in 2021.

Small ship cruising to resume soon

American Empress is now not expected to begin sailing in the Pacific Northwest until August. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Alaska

Seattle-based U.S.-flag operator UnCruise Adventures aims to carry travelers in Alaska starting Aug. 1.

“These initial departures represent a re-framing of what adventure travelers are increasingly looking for: small groups, inclusion and human connection,” UnCruise Adventures CEO Capt. Dan Blanchard said.

UnCruise crafted a seven-night “Glacier Bay National Park Adventure Cruise,” round-trip Juneau. It’s focused on wilderness and nature activities like hiking, kayaking, birding and whale-watching, Apart from Juneau, there are no port calls.

Social distancing since 1996

“How we structure our recovery efforts with new health safety standards, establish partnerships and operate with a small footprint will continue to define our industry and the pristine environments we visit for decades to come,” Blanchard said.

“The market is showing a growing interest in off-the-beaten-path destinations and that is what we do best. We’ve been social distancing since 1996.”

RELATED: A QuirkyCruise Q&A with Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures.

UnCruise to resume small ship cruising soon

UnCruise expects to begin Alaska sailings in August. Here, Capt. Dan Blanchard, the CEO. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Bonus Quirky news:
Whatever happened to Flying Clipper?

Whatever happened to Star Clippers’ new build, Flying Clipper, a near replica of 1913’s France II, the world’s largest square-rigged vessel? It was caught up in a dispute between the line and the shipyard, Brodosplit in Croatia.

According to Seatrade Cruise News, the five-masted vessel is being chartered by Brodosplit, the owner, to the U.K.-based start-up Tradewind Voyages. Renamed Golden Horizon, it’s going to sail from the U.K. to Northern Europe from May to August 2021 before branching out to the Mediterranean, Asia and beyond.

quirkycruise bird

 

 

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Dan Blanchard

Benefits of Small-Ship Cruising

By Heidi Sarna & Ted Scull.

We had an e-chat with Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures, about the benefits of small-ship cruising in the COVID-19 era.

QuirkyCruise: Why did you, along with David Allen of Alaskan Dream Cruises, launch the “US Small-Boat Operators Coalition?”

Dan Blanchard: Our exchange officially started March 3, 2020, as early indicators showed COVID-19 would have a growing effect on travel and that action would be needed. It matured into a larger conversation with other small boat operators to amplify their voice in Congress, help each other through this challenge and navigate the CARES Act. This included a need to carve out enhanced definitions for U.S. flagged ships in the federal government’s newly formed CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act.

There is a need for us to be defined separately and there have been many letters and conversations with Congress on our behalf that have worked in separating us from large cruise ships. Going forward we have an interest in both educating the public on the differences and getting involved in how the CARES act is being designated by the treasury.

I was the architect behind bringing the members of the coalition together. As a lifetime mariner and small-ship expedition pioneer, I’m dedicated to the ocean, adventure, and bringing meaningful travel to people from all walks of life.

Dan Blanchard

UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard

The seven coalition members are:

QuirkyCruise: What do you most want the traveling public to know and understand about the seven coalition members?  

Dan Blanchard: Every member of the coalition has been in the industry for some time; they are experts and dedicated to their brands. The formation of the coalition allows us to collaborate, to have more clout in governmental discussions, and to fly the flag for the small-boat operators in the U.S. The coalition members are working through an industry restart and we have more work ahead of us. But we are confident we will all be able to adapt to the changes.

QuirkyCruise: What makes small ships and boats different than the mega-ships of the mass market cruise lines?

Dan Blanchard: You won’t find a giant waterslide or several restaurants onboard our vessels because our waterslide is outdoors, snorkeling, or swimming with wildlife. Our dining is tailored to create a connection with other travelers in real conversations about the day’s hands-on adventure.

As a small-boat operator we are able to visit small ports, connect with local tribes and communities, provide a smaller travel footprint and provide a hands-on adventure experience that others can’t. People come to us because they want off-the-beaten-track exploration in an environment where everyone, including the captain, knows your name.

a small footprint is a benefits of small-ship cruising

Small ship cruising leaves a small footprint. * Photo: UnCruise

QuirkyCruise: What makes small vessels a good option when the general public is ready to travel on “cruises” again?

Dan Blanchard: We don’t say small is better than big, as there is a market for both. A voyage aboard one of our vessels is a very different experience than the traditional idea of cruising.

  • In contrast to large ships, we are able to have a lot more diversity in our itineraries. We like to say our itineraries can change on weather, whales, or whim.
  • We are easily accommodated in small ports and communities with an advantage of our local partnerships and we can also hunker down in our favorite secret adventure spots. We are all about wild Alaska and being with the critters.
  • With the new era of travel, our smaller company is able to pivot quickly in critical moments and make decisions throughout our operations that will benefit our crew and guests going forward.
  • When guests are ready to step back into travel, our vessels offer the ability to stay in the wilderness, which eliminates exposure to large crowds, shoppers, or virtually anyone outside the small group of 22-86 guests onboard.
  • Our small number of passengers and crew onboard, means we operate in a contained environment aboard and with a dedicated American crew completing high-frequency sanitation rounds.
  • We are utilizing real-world applications of social-spacing and are reviewing opportunities for available testing for guests and crew on the day of departure.

RELATED: UnCruise Adventures in Alaska. by Judi Cohen

QuirkyCruise: How do you aim to redefine the small boat industry?

Dan Blanchard: We understand it won’t be the same market going forward and that we have an opportunity to explore new ways of doing things here. That includes educating the consumer about small-boat adventure travel.

While this will continue to be fluid, the coalition has allowed us a platform to be heard and distinctly defined. This is vital for the small-boat industry going forward to rebound and recover.

QuirkyCruise: What language do you want to see being used to describe small boats like the ones that make up the coalition? How do you want to be seen and perceived by the traveling public?

Dan Blanchard: One of the initial interests in developing the coalition was to focus on a voice for micro-ships. We also include terms such as boutique yachts and small boats. Here at UnCruise Adventures we also like to think of ourselves as a sea lodge. A place to hunker down in a quiet cove or fjord and wake up to experience our up close and personal outdoor operations.

We look to help the traveling public understand the range of different small boat categories, including specialist expeditions and adventure itineraries with naturalist guides like ours.

kayaking on a small ship

Kayaking is a big part of the small-ship experience. * Photo: UnCruise

QuirkyCruise: Do you not want to use the word “ship” or “cruise” at all? Why?

Dan Blanchard: We have specifically steered away from the term ships to lessen the confusion of the general public who may not be familiar with boutique yachts and small-boat adventure travel.

While we do “cruise,” we don’t fit into the industry’s current description of cruise lines and that has become more obvious during these times of COVID-19.

Instead of focusing on the negative we highlight the positives and during this time more travelers are finding us because of the media negativity around large ships, and have come to us looking for education on new travel options. This opens up the opportunity for new discussions and alternatives for travelers.

RELATED: An UnCruise Expedition in Hawaii.  by John Roberts

QuirkyCruise: The CDC’s no-sail cruise moratorium applies to passenger vessels 250 passengers and above, why did you voluntarily cease operations when the big lines did?

Dan Blanchard: For UnCruise, the decision to temporarily suspend operations included direct conversations with local officials, postponed bookings and mandatory quarantines affecting sail dates.

QuirkyCruise: When do you realistically see the 7 members operating itineraries of any kind?

Dan Blanchard: I’m sure we are all hopeful for the 2020 Alaska season, but are looking at things realistically and assessing them daily. The coalition members are not currently operating on coordinated departures, but each will gauge their departure viability individually.

UnCruise Adventures is currently scheduling to resume operations mid-July in line with current state and governmental mandates. This continues to be reviewed daily, and we will continue to update our guests with changes. Alaska is one of our most popular itineraries during the summer months to capture the pristine beauty of remote places and wildlife. We look forward to being out there again.

QuirkyCruise: What protocols will be in place?

Dan Blanchard: Many onboard protocols involving sanitation, cleaning, food service and taking temperatures will be implemented for all guests and crew. In addition, PPE gear for certain activities such as boarding kayaks and skiffs, will be added to ensure safety.

QuirkyCruise: When cruise operations resume and booked passengers are allowed to enter the US and other countries (for instance, Mexico, Latin America/Ecuador) to board your vessels, how will you know if they have been vetted for communicable diseases? What would the hypothetical procedure be?

Dan Blanchard: This is a more multifaceted question and answer than it seems on the surface and one we are vetting with our partners in each of our destinations. This may in part be determined by local legislation and protocols for foreign passengers. We are looking at availability of rapid testing prior to boarding.

QuirkyCruise: What information do you think will be needed before they board at certain ports?

Dan Blanchard: This again will be determined more locally in addition to our advanced priority measures internally and across our fleet.

QuirkyCruise: Obviously, you have had to deal with passengers who become ill aboard your vessels for a whole host of reasons, but will you need to do anything different for potential COVID-19 incidences?

Dan Blanchard: We have protocols in place for illness and emergencies and will continue to look at rapid testing, and what will continue to evolve with pre-vaccine and post-vaccine modifications.

UnCruise Adventures has a talented team of captains, crew members and onboard EMTs, along with a highly experienced executive and operations team to support potential challenges. And in contrast to other adventure operators, we sail in the wilderness with no exposure to outsiders during most voyages themselves. [QC Note: Most sailings are round-trip from Juneau or between Juneau and Sitka, where there of course are other people.]

QuirkyCruise: Do you want to have some testing kits aboard that your trained first-aid crewmember can use if some symptoms are manifested?

Dan Blanchard: We are looking at all options for availability of approved testing for our guests and crew and have had recent discussions with Alaska’s representatives on rapid COVID-19 testing priority for U.S.-flagged small boat operators.

QuirkyCruise: If the result is positive, what will be your action if the vessel is in Glacier Bay or Mexico’s Sea of Cortes?

Dan Blanchard: These would be in line with our emergency protocols already in place including emergency evacuation if needed. We have isolation cabins set aside, and a guest or crew would be isolated in this situation. Anyone running a temperature, for any reason, would be isolated and if deemed a concern would be tested. Evacuation depends on the level of severity.

Of course, guests will be expected to be traveling in good health and will be asked to comply with our pre-embarkation procedures and onboard sanitization and safety measures.

QuirkyCruise: If it’s the common flu, or specifically COVID-19, what steps will be taken on board that vessel?

Dan Blanchard: We’ve always taken health and safety onboard all of our vessels seriously. As with the common flu or any infectious disease, we have isolation protocols for anyone who shows signs of possibly having an illness. This will be heightened for COVID-19.

Additionally, we sail with sufficient PPE gear to accommodate all guests and crewmembers if this situation arises. We will introduce additional advanced sanitization, new physical distancing guidelines and a thorough 360-degree cleaning approach to provide our guests with a comfortable experience every step of the way.

QuirkyCruise: Let’s say the ill passenger upon reaching the hospital is tested positive for a communicable disease, do you (HQ and the ship) automatically get a report?

Dan Blanchard: We are in constant contact with our Seattle HQ regarding any information around a guest’s needs from our vessels. Communication and decision making are immediately coordinated across teams. We have daily vessel reports as a common practice along with emergency and contingency protocols.  

QuirkyCruise: Will you add any new information on your website for passengers who may have medical questions before they decide to book or not?

Dan Blanchard: This information will be updated to our website as new information arises and will address the top FAQ’s. We already spend a decent amount of time working with guests prior to any departure to learn about their trip motivation, endurance/agility/energy levels, and needs of each experience seeker individually.

Additional measures will include required information and questionnaires on personal health, and we are continually looking at approved testing availability to include in our protocols.

 

 

More about Captain Dan Blanchard from UnCruise.com

“We’ve all heard a tall tale or two, but when it comes to Captain Dan Blanchard — well, he’s the real thing. Growing up in Washington State, he has always been around boats. Even as a kid, Dan worked restoring the family’s wooden tug. And the reward of all that hard work paid off in a big way — he has spent a lifetime exploring winding waterways, beachcombing, skin diving, and sailing the world in search of incredible wildlife and cultural encounters.

Dan is a natural storyteller (2012 winner of Seattle’s annual “Stories of the Sea” contest), and who better to tell stories than an enthusiastic skier, cyclist, hiker, sailor, and world-explorer of off-the-chart places? One who fell in love with nature and the wilds of Alaska and beyond. In 2013, he was adopted into a native Alaskan Tlingit tribe, whom we still visit on UnCruise itineraries to this day.

Dan’s unassailable career began early. He was a Sea Scout, earned honors as Regional and National Boatswain when he was 16, and received his Master’s Ships License at 18. He owned Blanchard Marine; captained sightseeing vessels at Glacier Bay Lodge in Alaska; and grew through the ranks from captain to director of marine operations to VP of operations at Cruise West.

In 1999, he joined American Safari Cruises. Dan acquired the company in 2008 and as CEO, launched InnerSea Discoveries, now known as UnCruise Adventures with a new style of small-boat expeditions specializing in active adventures on the water. He’s living the dream and wouldn’t have it any other way. As a lifetime mariner, it can’t get much sweeter for Dan with both of his kids working in the business beside him — it’s safe to say it’s in their genes too.”

 

 

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© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Antarctica Cruising with Abercrombie & Kent

By John Roberts.

This cruise was going to be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. That much was known.

The rest was a mystery to me.

As the date for our Antarctica voyage with Abercrombie & Kent drew closer [Jan 2020], it started to sink in that I was going to finally get to explore this faraway place.

And I was equally excited to share this adventure with my wife, Colleen. We did tons of research on what we should pack, how the sailing conditions would be and what we could expect to see. It seems that every voyage is different and takes on its own personality, and the accounts or pieces of advice that we gleaned from friends and the Internet ahead of the trip pointed to the fact that each expedition is unique.

This proved to be absolutely true.

John & Colleen share a trip of a lifetime.

Antarctica is a magical, scarcely visited place, and we would have the privilege of spending a couple weeks in the rugged locations that had spawned so many tales of adventure.

We would be following in the wake of explorers like Roald Amundsen and Sir James Clark Ross and tracing the footsteps of legends like Sir Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott.

It’s as unspoiled as any place in the world and a destination that continues to inspire today’s ambitious travelers.

So, our excitement occupied a great deal of our emotions. But I also was concerned about packing the right gear and felt a bit of pressure to ensure I had good enough camera equipment to be able to capture memorable images of the animals and landscapes that I was about to encounter.

Then, there is the sailing itself. I have cruised more than 80 times, and I’ve never battled seasickness. I had heard about the Drake Passage, though, from several friends who have made the trip. This stretch of waterway must be crossed from our departure port of Ushuaia, Argentina, in order to reach the White Continent.

The passage is an unpredictable area that connects the southwestern Atlantic Ocean with the southeastern edge of the Pacific Ocean just above the Southern Ocean. This area between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands can get quite turbulent and test the constitution of even the most well-weather old sailor.

RELATED: Ted Talks about the Roughest Seas in the World.

So, we had that to look forward to.

It’s the pursuit of adventure, excitement and a sense of the wild and unknown that attracts cruisers to Antarctica.

We were thrilled to get our chance on an expedition with Abercrombie & Kent on the luxury ship, the Le Lyrial from French cruise line Ponant. Our trip started in Buenos Aires just before New Year’s and lasted three weeks.

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Le Lyrial in Drygalski Fjord

Le Lyrial in Drygalski Fjord. * Photo: John Roberts

Antarctica Cruising: With Abercrombie & Kent

Abercrombie & Kent is a boutique outfitter that has been a leader in highly curated luxury travel experiences for five decades. A&K first made its name with African safari expeditions in the 1960s, and the company now leads small-group journeys all over the world.

The company has partnered with Ponant on expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica. A&K charters the ships and provides the cruise director and expedition guides, and Ponant crewmembers operate the luxury 199-passenger vessel. Passengers are treated to luxurious amenities, attentive staff and all-inclusive food and drinks.

Antarctica Cruising: An Overivew

Our all-inclusive “Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands” adventure comprised four nights pre-cruise in a luxury Buenos Aires hotel in Argentina, 15 nights on board Le Lyrial, and one final hotel night in Ushuaia.

We flew to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and from there boarded a charter flight to Ushuaia, the port city at the southern tip of South America’s Patagonia region.

In Ushuaia, we had a few hours before boarding the 199-passenger Le Lyrial. We met a few A&K guides who checked in our group and hosted a lunch at a lodge on a scenic hilltop overlooking the city. After a quick buffet meal, groups headed out for a short hike in the neighboring forest.

Once we boarded the ship, we spent three days sailing toward Antarctica. Then it was three days amid the islands and on the continent, stopping at Danco Island, Neko Harbour, Cierva Cove, Mikkelsen Harbor, Yankee Harbor and Aitcho Islands.

We cruised two more days to get to South Georgia Island, where we would head ashore for three more days of exploration, visiting Fortuna Bay, Grytviken, Drygalski Fjord, Salisbury Plain and Elsehul. After that, we sailed for four straight days to return to Ushuaia to begin our journey back home. (We were originally scheduled to visit the Falkland Islands, but weather disrupted our plans and our captain adjusted — more to come on that!)

Antarctica cruise map

The 21-day Antarctica expedition from A&K aboard Ponant’s Le Lyrial. John & Colleen did the route counterclockwise.

With so many seas days in the itinerary, we were fortunate to be sailing on a well-accoutered ship filled with posh amenities, delightful staffers and gourmet cuisine.

That’s the overview of this 20-night journey. Let’s have a more-detailed look at what we did and everything we got to see.

Antarctica Cruising: Summer in South America

A&K offers pre-cruise extension options to spend time in Buenos Aires or take a trip to Iguazu Falls, spectacular falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil. We would end up with about 170 passengers cruising on our expedition, and about 30 of them did the Iguazu Falls add-on. We met a couple who raved about it.

We chose four days in Buenos Aires, as did about 100 others. A&K’s host hotel for the trip is the historic Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, which is conveniently located in the heart of the elegant La Recoleta neighborhood.

Park Hyatt Buenos Aires

The nearly century-old historic Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires. * Photo: John Roberts

This put us within strolling distance of many of the city’s top attractions, and we took advantage. The end of December is the heart of summer in the southern hemisphere, and it was fabulous to shed our winter coats and walk around the city in the nearly 80-degree temps.

During our time in Buenos Aires, we had a few days of free time and one day where we joined an organized city tour that was included in our A&K program. Colleen and I went for a couple of runs and long walks around the city and noted plenty of pretty urban parks. We also made sure to hit up a couple restaurants to dig into the delicious cuisine including empanadas, and, of course, the savory steaks.

Buenos Aires before an Antarctica cruise

One of John and Colleen’s Buenos Aires runs.

We also made sure to wander through La Recoleta Cemetery. This is one of the most scenic and visited burial sites in the world. More than just a cemetery, La Recoleta resembles a peaceful park, with thousands of graves and ornate tombs connected by winding walkways, trees and plants. The gravesites honor the dead with beautiful carvings and stained-glass accents.

On our city tour with A&K, a guide brought us to points of interest like Plaza de Mayo, which is a main hub of the city and features the Pink Palace residence of the president, as well as the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Buenos Aires touring

The Pink Palace residence of the president. * Photo: John Roberts

The main Catholic church in Buenos Aires is filled with gorgeous altarpieces, statues and stained-glass windows and is where Pope Francis used to perform mass when he was known as Archbishop Joseph Bergoglio, before he became pope in 2013.

Our pre-cruise time in Buenos Aires included a wonderful New Year’s Eve dinner at our hotel restaurant. The festive event put us in just the right frame of mind, ringing in another year before we embarked on a special cruise that had been on our wish list for quite a while.

Antarctica Cruising: Heading South

After a three-hour charter flight, our large group assembled to board buses and head to a lodge in Ushuaia for lunch, hiking and free time before the ship was ready for us. We finally boarded Le Lyrial in the late afternoon, and you could feel the excitement building for our expedition.

Once on the ship, we knew we had a few days to get settled in before we would reach Antarctica. This would allow us time to get our room organized, unpack clothes and gear, check out the ship amenities, and meet our fellow cruisers as well as the crew and guides.

Antarctica cruise gear

The gear issued at the start of the cruise. * Photo: John Roberts

Antarctica Cruising: The Ship

Le Lyrial is an elegant, modern ship with seven decks. All cabins have ocean views and most offer balconies. In ours, suite #406, we enjoyed our balcony, which I consider a must-have feature when sailing in Antarctica.

Suite with balcony in the Antarctic

A standard balcony suite aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Ponant, François Lefebvre-1

We spotted all kinds of landscapes, glaciers, ice formations, whales, seabirds and other wildlife simply by stepping out into the fresh air a few strides from our bed.

VIDEO: John gives you a tour of his cabin, #406, below:

The ship has a large spa that offers a range of treatments like massages, facials, and nail and hair services. The fitness center is nearby with treadmills and bikes as well as a weight-training machine. The facility also features a hammam steam room.

A large photo shop allows passengers to book portraits or purchase pictures taken by the ship’s staff of professional photographers. They also shoot a slickly edited video that recaps the entire trip, and that is available to buy.

Le Lyrial’s main theater is home to the enrichment talks, and the program offers movie nights throughout the cruise that you can view on the big screen.

Ly Lyrial lecture on an Antarctica cruise

One of the many enrichment talks in the main theater. * Photo: John Roberts

The lounge is the hub of the ship’s activity. It offers couch seating around the perimeter as well as chairs and tables, so you can sit and gaze through the windows and enjoy the views. This is where passengers spend the majority of their time, chatting throughout the day, reading books, keeping busy with knitting, and ordering beverages from the friendly bar staff.

Ly Lyrial Observation lounge

The observation lounge. * Photo: John Roberts

In the morning, we assembled to put on our gear in the lounge and lined up to get into the Zodiacs, which were reached by heading through the lounge and out onto the back deck before going down to the marina.

Live music was performed by a duet in the lounge, which also has a large dance floor. Passengers also flocked here in the afternoons for tea time — a daily event that offered special accompaniments like tapas, macarons, crepes or ice cream. The ship also features two restaurants: the main dining room, Le Celeste, called a gastronomic restaurant, and the more casual La Comete, a buffet-style grill eatery located on Deck 6 and open to the pool deck. You can also get 24-hour room service.

We tended to eat breakfast in the main restaurant on Deck 2 and dinner at the buffet eatery. The cuisine included a mix of French cuisine and international favorites, such as duck confit, seasoned lamb tenderloins and scallops. We also loved the carving station that featured items like fish, a whole pig, turkey and roast beef.

Le Lyrial in Antarctica

The main dining room. * Photo: John Roberts

Antarctica Cruise with Ponant

Iberico ham at tea time. * Photo: John Roberts

The menu also includes everyday favorites like burgers, chicken breast, mashed potatoes, green beans and french fries. The buffet eatery has a salad bar with plenty of selections. Of course, the wine is free flowing, and most passengers downed several glasses during lunches and dinners.

“The ship itself was very comfortable and cozy — easy enough to explore most nooks and crannies, including visiting the bridge,” said David Marcus, a passenger traveling with six family members. “The food was very good, but way too much. We basically had a floating buffet for the entire trip.”

The pool is heated and has a deep end and shallow end. This makes it great for a relaxing soak, and we took advantage on a sunny day at Neko Harbour in Antarctica. We were joined by several new friends, getting acquainted over cocktails and soaking up the sunshine. (Note: Apply sunscreen. Even the sun in Antarctica can burn.)

Hottub soak in Neko Harbour

A refreshing Neko Harbour soak for John! * Photo: Colleen McDaniel

VIDEO: Follow John on a ship tour of Le Lyrial, below.

Antarctica Cruising: The Beginning

As we pulled away from Ushuaia, we saw a couple of Silversea ships returning from their expeditions. I wondered about all that they had seen and what we would be experiencing over the course of our 14 days sailing around in these remote regions.

Guides and passengers gathered on the aft pool deck area and other outside spaces. Feeling the chill in the air and the winds whipping as we sailed, most of us had already started wearing the red parkas that A&K provided for the trip. Throughout the journey, our group roaming onshore would stand out in bright contrast to the green grasses or white snow.

the deck Le Lyrial in Antarctica

Guides in yellow and passengers in red chatting on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

We were outside right away as we started the sailing. The guides encouraged us to check out the sea birds flying nearby and learn how to identify an albatross from a petrel. We also saw dolphins and a few penguins swimming in the waters.

These were the first glimpses of what would become an incredible display of wildlife in the coming weeks.

The ubiquitous albatross in Antarctica

The ubiquitous albatross. * Photo: Claudia Kirchberger from Pixabay

Antarctica Cruising: Sea Days

During the sea days heading down to the White Continent, Abercrombie & Kent’s program kept us engaged.

To get prepared for the trip, we had the obligatory safety and biosecurity briefings. We learned the procedures that we would use during the voyage to ensure that we wouldn’t adversely affect the environments that we visited.

The main protocol had us washing our boots in a tub of antiseptic called Virkon each time we left the ship and upon our return. I was pleased to see how meticulous the process was to make sure we keep these special places pristine. This meant scrubbing off any trace of penguin poop and picking off even the smallest rock or seed from our pants, gloves, backpacks and jackets.

Antarctica excursion boots

The cleaned boots set outside the cabin to await the next adventure. * Photo: John Roberts

The program was also filled with at least a couple of enrichment talks each day in the ship’s main theater. The expert guides gave talks on the history of the region, as well as the wildlife, with specific topics covering mammals or seabirds or penguins.

There were two photo experts onboard as well, a pair who conducted regular talks in the theater. These well-known photographers, Rick Sammon and Richard Harker, gave excellent tips for capturing memorable pictures and also carved out time to sit in the lounge and meet with especially avid shutterbugs who wanted to show their daily captures and get feedback or learn how to use editing programs.

Antarctica cruising

Rick Sammon’s photography talk. * Photo: John Roberts

© Rick Sammon Antarctica ice

Stunning ice formations. * Photo © Rick Sammon

Enrichment talks are scheduled on sea days and days when visiting a port. We had 170 passengers on our voyage, and regulations place a limit of 100 passengers ashore at a time. Therefore, we were divided into two groups, and we alternated the times when we would go ashore each day.

For example, if we went out at 8 a.m. one day, we would be the 9:45 a.m. group on the next. We would have afternoon and morning shore landings or skiff tours, and this left time for attending talks (or napping!) while the other group was ashore and we were waiting our turn.

Antarctica expedition cruise with Ponant

Climbing in and out of zodiacs is business as usual on an Antarctica cruise. * Photo: Ponant

The daunting Drake Passage had to be crossed on the way down, and this period of sailing presented a certain mystique for most of the passengers, many who were on their very first cruise. I had heard plenty about how the rough waters of the Drake Passage are on another level when it comes to cruising.

So, it was with a mix of relief and slight disappointment that we had an especially smooth crossing. In fact, our experienced captain, Patrick Marchesseau, said it was one of the gentlest crossings of the Drake he had experienced.

The calm waters allowed us to get outside to watch the albatross and other seabirds that would swoop alongside the ship and follow the breezes above our wake.

Antarctica on deck

Guides and passengers mingling on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

We soon arrived to the waters just off the Antarctic continent. The excitement onboard was palpable as we noticed small chunks of ice beginning to float past as we got closer and closer to the islands that we would be visiting for our first forays ashore.

Antarctica Cruising: Sightseeing Adventures in Antarctica

Danco Island

We were in the early group for going ashore at our first destination: Danco Island. I popped out of bed and slid open the glass door and went onto the balcony to see the island, which has a wide sloping cobble beach. I could see gentoo penguins swimming the waters carrying out their fishing activities.

After breakfast, we all gradually geared up and made it down the hallways toward the main lounge.

We were a fine regiment of adventurers, with red parkas as our uniforms and waterproof pants swishing with every energetic stride.

We loaded into Zodiacs and set off to the island. As we approached, the sounds and smells grew louder and sharper. The squawks of penguins and the pungent smell of guano would fill our senses for much of the next 10 days as we visited daily with amazing creatures of Antarctica and South Georgia.

At Danco Island, we traversed the gentle slope of a snow-covered field and watched a colony of delightful gentoos wander up and down a “penguin highway” carrying out their tasks. It was our first close encounter with these endearing animals, and we were all transfixed.

penguins in Antarctica

The “Penguin Highway.” * Photo: John Roberts

“You have the opportunity to interact with the wildlife in one of the most pristine areas of the world,” Dr. Patri Silva Rodriguez said. “Here, they are not scared at all of us, and you can have the best time of your life watching them.”

The temps were mild and the sun started to shine as we wandered back down to the beach to see a Weddell seal resting on a perch, blissfully tolerating the gathering crowd as more penguins plunged into the water to start a hunt. Others waddled out of the surf and past the humans.

We were giddy to be able to witness the whole scene.

The morning at Danco Island set us off and running with memorable experiences.

Antarctica cruising zodiac

Leaving Danco and heading back on board. * Photo: John Roberts

Neko Harbour

In the afternoon, it was a hike to the top of a hill above Neko Harbour. We had officially made it onto the continent during this outing, and several travelers celebrated reaching their seventh continent. One group of friends unfurled a Canadian flag and snapped some pics at the summit to mark the accomplishment.

It was Colleen’s seventh continent and my sixth (I’m missing Australia as of this writing).

Neko Harbour on an Antarctica cruise

A hike to the top of a hill above Neko Harbour afforded a great shot of Le Lyrial. * Photo: John Roberts

The afternoon brought higher temps, and along with the challenge of hiking up the hillside and through steep snow, meant that we were generating even more heat. Most of us stripped off our parkas and enjoyed the sunshine while moving up and down the hillside and past large nesting areas of gentoo penguins.

Le Lyrial was picture-perfect in the harbor, and a few of us took advantage of the favorable conditions to settle into the heated pool once we were back onboard. We ordered some drinks and enjoyed a couple hours with new friends amid the most stunning backdrop you can imagine.

While we were just becoming casually familiar with the penguins and seals at this point, we soon would become experts on their behaviors in the coming days.

Neko Peak

From Neko Peak. * Photo: John Roberts

Cierva Cove

We took a skiff tour in Cierva Cove the next morning. Here, our driver Augie navigated around gorgeous blue ice formations that bobbed in the calm waters.

Cierva Cove in Antarctica

Wispy clouds over the twin peaks of Cierva Cove. * Photo: John Roberts

We saw gentoo and chinstrap penguins, as well as a leopard seal swimming and a crabeater seal relaxing on a floating piece of ice.

 crabeater seal in the Antarctic

An adorable crabeater seal at Cierva Cove. * Photo: John Roberts

Mikkelsen Harbour

In the afternoon, it was Mikkelsen Harbour. The beach was filled with bleached whale bones, a marker of the former whaling industry that proliferated in the region. Also spotted: more penguins and seals. Of course.

Mikkelsen Harbour

Mikkelsen Harbour where the whaling industry once thrived. * Photo: John Roberts

South Shetland Islands

Our final day in Antarctica brought us to the South Shetland Islands, where we went ashore at Yankee Harbor in the morning and Aitcho Islands for the afternoon. Conditions had grown a little wet and blustery, but we enjoyed seeing the different landscapes and habitats where the animals lived. It was amazing to see how much the elephant seals and penguins are thriving in these environments.

Yankee Harbor View on an Antarctica cruise

Plenty of penguins in Yankee Harbor. * Photo: John Roberts

gentoo penguins in Antarctica

Gentoo penguins feeding on the Aitcho Islands. * Photo: John Roberts

elephant seals in Antarctica

Elephant seals doing their thing. * Photo: John Roberts

Back on Le Lyrial for lunch between our two outings, the crew treated us to a special “Southernmost Barbecue Lunch,” to fuel up on hearty comfort food and commemorate our special place in the world — marking a latitude below 62 degrees south. Cooks grilled up burgers, chicken, hot dogs and pork out on the pool deck.

After our time in Antarctica, we had three more sea days on the schedule before we would reach the South Georgia Islands, which we were told would be filled with an even more stunning population of penguins, seals and other birds.

It was good that we had some time to rest up for another set of exciting and active days out in nature. We needed to fully process and appreciate what we had just experienced — up-close encounters with fascinating creatures and a stunning landscape that few travelers are fortunate enough to see.

While sailing toward South Georgia, we spent our time on Le Lyrial getting in a daily workout in the small gym. It was always fairly busy in the mornings, with a group of regulars who all like to keep fit and active, too.

Colleen and I also scheduled a massage and enjoyed a couple post-workout sessions in the hammam. We found this steam room to be quite rejuvenating and an unexpected treat for an expedition ship.

Antarctica Cruising: South Georgia Islands

South Georgia is a British Overseas Territory, and we enjoyed three packed days taking in all the sights, sounds and history available during our stops at Fortuna Bay, Grytviken, Drygalski Fjord, Salisbury Plain and Elsehul.

Fortuna Bay is home to a large colony of king penguins, and we were all delighted to meet these majestic creatures, which are much larger and with their own set of behaviors compared with the gentoos and chin straps with which we had grown so friendly over the prior week.

Fortuna Bay Antarctica

Gorgeous Fortuna Bay. * Photo: John Roberts

penguins of Fortuna bay

The treasures of Fortuna Bay. * Photo: John Roberts

Salisbury Plain sits in the wildlife-rich area on the north coast known as the Bay of Isles, and this spot is home to one of the largest king penguin colonies in the world. We all eagerly snapped photos, as we witnessed the birds feeding young, nesting and caring for eggs, swimming out and returning back from the sea for fishing forays.

We also saw plenty of penguins in the middle of their crucial molting process to refresh their plumage.

King Penguins in Antarcica

Molting Kings. * Photo: John Roberts

Salisbury Plain

Stunning Salisbury Plain. * Photo: John Roberts

Large colonies of fur seals and other seals also share these precious places with the penguins. In fact, 95 percent of the world’s five million fur seals are on South Georgia, and we saw massive colonies of sub-adults and pups all over the beaches, on tussock grass and inland. The number of tiny fur seal pups on display really dialed up the cuteness factor of these days.

Trio of seal pubs in Antarctica

Adorable seal pups. * Photo: John Roberts

Colleen and I made friends with a number of fellow passengers, who, like us, share a passion for adventure. They included an 11- and 14-year-old brother and sister who were traveling with their parents at what was just the start of a seven-months-long worldwide trip.

Most passengers were around 55 to 75 years old and from the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom. All were extremely well-traveled and represented a cross-section of careers (whether retired or still working) in business, law and medicine — some were highly successful entrepreneurs.

David Marcus and his wife, Bilha, from Maryland, were traveling with five other adult family members and friends. I noticed that their group was among the most engaged — enjoying the daily activities onboard and ashore. Before the trip was halfway over, Marcus had already resolved to return to Antarctica with his granddaughter once she is a bit older.

“The Zodiac tours and onshore excursions allowed us to almost shake hands with the penguins and seals,” he said. “And, surprisingly, the weather was warmer in Antarctica than back at home.”

Antarctica Cruising: Grytviken

A former whaling station, Grytviken is one of the most developed places on the island.

Grytviken in Antarctica

Grytviken is a former whaling station. * Photo: John Roberts

We went ashore for a hike and to visit the small church, immersive museum and little post office/gift shop.

Grytviken also has a small cemetery that includes the grave of Ernest Shackleton, who died of a heart attack at the age of 47 while there in 1922.

Shackleton grave on an Antarctica cruise

The grave of the legendary Shackleton. * Photo: John Roberts

The legendary Antarctica explorer made his name during several expeditions on the continent, most notably in an attempt to cross Antarctica beginning in late 1914 that led to a harrowing adventure after setting sail from South Georgia. His ship the Endurance became trapped in ice and ultimately was wrecked and sank. This led to an incredible tale of survival that lasted almost two years before Shackleton and crew returned to South Georgia.

When Shackleton’s fourth-and-final Antarctica expedition ended with his death off South Georgia, his wife, Emily, said that he should be buried there. And so he was buried on the island at Grytviken at the small cemetery that includes graves of several other residents.

shackleton's tombstone

A close up of Shackleton’s tombstone. * Photo: John Roberts

We went for an afternoon skiff tour within Drygalski Fjord and saw seals, seabirds and calving glaciers that filled the channel with thundering cracks and loud splashes and fizzing sounds as the massive chunks of ripped away from the ice field and plunged into the fjord.

Elsehul was our final stop in South Georgia, and we took a Zodiac tour in an especially enthralling place that represents the full menu of sensory experiences. We saw thousands of albatrosses, seals and penguins filling the skies, beaches and sloping grassy hillsides that surround this secluded cove.

Stunning ice formations. * Photo © Rick Sammon

The cuteness is unreal. * Photo © Rick Sammon

We were on a Zodiac with 10 others, and expedition guide Augie was at the helm again as we got our first look at macaroni penguins and marveled at the beauty of the gray-headed albatrosses. Augie had smuggled a medium-sized box onto the small boat, and its presence had gone largely unnoticed until he picked just the right time to slide it close, flip off the lid and reveal several bottles of Champagne.

 Champagne on an excursion

Nice surprise! * Photo: John Roberts

We were nestled along the shore and savoring the scenery as he popped the corks, poured the bubbly and passed around our glasses for a toast to our incredible time together over the past two-plus weeks.

Antarctica expedition cruise champagne

A toast with Augie. * Photo: John Roberts

passengers on an Antarctica cruise

Passengers Dick and Pat in Elsehul. * Photo: John Roberts

One Last Challenge: The Return Home

Remember when I said the ride south was smooth as could be and that many of us onboard were a little disappointed in not getting to experience at least a taste of what the seas can offer when they get angry on these Antarctic cruises?

Well, we got the full seven-course meal on the voyage back north.

The cruise itinerary had called for a stop at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, but that was scrapped as a massive storm crossed our path as we sailed in the South Atlantic Ocean.

RELATED: Ted’s 10 Best Antarctica & Falkland Islands Moments

Our captain informed us as we departed South Georgia that a storm was heading our way.

This resulted in almost 24 consecutive hours of the Le Lyrial and its crew and passengers being tossed about in waves that reached up to 50 feet and were regularly higher than 30 feet.

story seas in the Falklands

Stormy seas kept John & Colleen confined to their cabin for the last few days of the cruise. * Photo: John Roberts

VIDEO: Watching the sea churn during the stormy ride to the Falkland Islands.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSBTx5ax1gc

Services were shut down, and we remained in our cabins for almost the entire time. Crew served us a boxed meal for our dinner, and we did the best to stay comfortable in conditions that were both thrilling and scary. Colleen and I didn’t get much rest, as it was nearly impossible to sleep while trying to hang onto the bed without tumbling to the floor.

Trips to the bathroom were precarious, and items that weren’t fastened ended up scattered all around the cabin.

But we didn’t get sick, so that was a relief. I know many other passengers had a much rougher ride than we did because of seasickness.

We stayed mostly in our bed the whole time and watched a lot of on-demand movies.

Conditions eased as we cruised into a protected area by the Falkland Islands, so we had some relief for much of one day before the waves kicked up again. We sailed for four consecutive days before reaching Ushuaia and our return to land on a Friday evening.

Everyone was quite eager to get off the ship, as cabin fever had set in, and we saw passengers lining up near the gangway to rush off as soon as it was dropped. People headed out to take a walk and find a spot for dinner off the ship.

Though we were all still abuzz about all we had seen and experienced together, people were definitely in the mood for a change of pace, especially after 16 straight days onboard a ship — with the last four being very rough sea days.

Being back on solid ground and amid civilization was just what we were looking for as we joined new friends at a nice restaurant and shared pizzas, beers and lively conversation. It was the final night of the journey and we would be heading off to the airport and on our separate ways back home the next day.

© Rick Sammon ice photo in Antarctica

Serene landscapes (when the weather is good!). * Photo © Rick Sammon

Antarctica Cruising: The Bottom Line

We have enjoyed several expedition-style cruises over the years, and the guides always have been a special part of the trip, helping to bond the group together to share some of the most intense and fulfilling experiences you can imagine.

This part of the experience came up a bit short for us on this trip. A couple of the A&K guides were fairly friendly, and they all were fine when approached with questions, but they didn’t initiate engagement with the passengers in a way that I am used to seeing.

Instead, they tended to disappear or huddle together among themselves when in the main lounge. This was a little disappointing to me.

You never get tired of witnessing penguins and seals in their daily activities up close and in their natural habitat. However, our six days of exploring in the two different regions on the voyage would have been better with a bit more variety in the excursions.

The ship carried kayaks, but A&K did not include kayak tours in its program (and we weren’t really sure why).

Personally, I also would like more options for hikes. I do realize that we were probably in the minority for having these quibbles, though, as most people I asked said they really enjoyed almost every part of the trip — save for the rough sea days.

The program was a rich one, and the guides and staff took great care of us, displaying a true expertise of the region.

The enrichment talks were fascinating, and the animal interactions were intense and more exciting than you can imagine.

elephant seal

Adorably melancholic Elephant seal. * Photo: John Roberts

Our cruise director, Paul Carter, was especially delightful, making us laugh with jokes, always asking how our days were going and keeping us up to date with info needed to effectively navigate each day and destination.

The bilingual Ponant crew speaks French and English, and represent a mix of nationalities. Most officers and managers are French, with the hotel operations staff coming from places like India and the Philippines. The A&K guides come from all over. We had guides from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, the U.K. New Zealand and the United States.

The trip overall was fantastic and a great way to explore such a thrilling destination in style and comfort. Antarctica and South Georgia are places that you have to see for yourself to get a true appreciation for how vital and vibrant they are.

“I am thankful that I was able to witness this remarkable place that most people will never be able to see in their lifetime,” says Melissa Kaplan, who was traveling with her husband, Mike, from Katy, Texas. They also cruised with A&K to the Arctic in 2018, and Melissa feels that the Arctic and an Antarctic cruise that includes South Georgia, are both equally magnificent.

VIDEO: Enjoy John’s overview of his magical Antarctica A&K adventure.

Fares for John’s 20-night “Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands” adventure (four hotel nights in Buenos Aires, 15 nights aboard Le Lyrial, and one final hotel night in Ushuaia), started at $20,995 per person, including round-trip flights between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, plus all zodiac excursions; all house wines, spirits and drinks; expedition gear (parka etc); tips and port charges; accommodation in a suite; and more (note all cabins have a balcony except for 8 cabins on Deck 3)..

View similar offerings for the 2021-22 season here.  *Note, the “new normal” for cruising, whether small-scale or mass-market, is still to be determined as the travel world adjusts to cruising in the era of COVID-19. 

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

RELATED:  Antarctica Aboard a Former Russian Research Vessel.  by Judi Cohen

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Avalon Impression

Avalon Waterways

Avalon entered the fast-growing river cruise market in 2004 and is owned by the Swiss-based Globus family of travel industry brands. The line aims for the upper end of the river cruise market, operating a large number of riverboats on a vast range of European itineraries (nearly three dozen) as well as programs in the Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon, the Mekong, Ganges and the Nile.

The line’s affiliation with the Cosmos and Monograms travel brands means Avalon Waterways offers countless add-on itineraries for before and after your cruise, and can coordinate the various legs seamlessly.

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Visionary on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

COVID-19 UPDATE

Avalon Waterways will resume cruising in November 2020.

Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

FLEET
Europe (Avalon Suite Ships)

Avalon Panorama (b. 2011 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Vista (b. 2012 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Visionary (b. 2012 & 128 p) – Danube, Rhine & Moselle Rivers

Avalon Artistry II (b. 2013 & 128 p) – Danube, Rhine & Moselle Rivers

Avalon Expression (b. 2013 & 12 8p) – Danube, Rhine & Rhône Rivers

Avalon Impression (b. 2014 & 166 p) – Danube River

Avalon Illumination (b. 2014 & 128 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Poetry II (b. 2014 & 128 p) – Rhine, Rhône & Saône Rivers

Avalon Tapestry II (b. 2015 & 128 p) – Seine River

Avalon Tranquility II (b. 2015 & 128 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Imagery II (b. 2016 & 128 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Passion (b. 2016 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Envision (b. 2019 & 166 p) – Danube River

Avalon View (b. 2020 & 166 p) – Danube & Rhine Rivers

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Artistry II on the Rhine. * Photo: Avalon

Asia

Avalon Siem Reap (b. 2015 & 36 p) – Mekong River

Avalon Saigon (b. 2017 & 36 p) – Mekong River

Ganges Voyager (b. 2015 & 56 p) – Ganges River

South America

Treasure of Galapagos (b. 2009 & 16 p) – Galapagos Islands

Delfin III (b. 2015 & 44 p) – Amazon River

Egypt

MS Farah (b. 2011 & 124 p) – Nile River

Passenger Profile

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

Price

$$  Expensive

Included Features
  • Onboard meals
  • Coffee, tea, soft drinks & water
  • Wine, beer & spirits with dinner, sparkling wine with breakfast
  • Wi-Fi (including in cabins for Europe cruises)
  • Most shore excursions
Itineraries

Avalon Waterways’ cruise itineraries are packed with options to extend your cruise with land tours.

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

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

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

In South America, cruises to Galapagos and along the Peruvian Amazon include a 7-night Galapagos cruise-tour with the inclusion of sights in and around Quito, Ecuador; 14-night cruise tour that combines the Galapagos cruise with a land tour to Cusco and Machu Picchu (Peru) and Quito (Ecuador); and a 17- to 19-night cruise tour with the addition of the Amazon River lodge including day cruises on the river.

For Asia, cruises along the Mekong include 7-night voyages between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and (near) Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Longer itineraries of 12 or 17 nights include Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Halong Bay in Vietnam, respectively. On India’s Ganges River, there are 6-night cruises round-trip from Kolkata and 12-night journeys from Delhi to Kolkata.

In Egypt, Nile River itineraries include 9 nights round-trip from Cairo, and 13 nights from Cairo to the Dead Sea, exploring Jordan.

Sample Itineraries

The best way to explore Central Europe, the Magnificent Europe cruise on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers is a 14-night itinerary from Amsterdam to Budapest. The cruise begins with a canal tour from Holland’s capital, then it’s on to Germany to visit Cologne and sail through the dramatic Rhine Gorge. In Germany, you’ll also call at Rüdesheim, Würzburg, Volkach, Bamberg, Nuremberg and Regensburg before sailing through the Main Danube Canal to Melk, Austria. Finally, the journey passes through the Wachau Valley to Vienna and on to its final stop in Budapest, Hungary.

Another popular itinerary is the Mekong Discovery, a 7-night cruise that starts at Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, exploring the city and smaller local village via sampan. Cruising up the Mekong, stops at rural villages reveal temples, local cottage industries and cultures. The cruise finishes near Phnom Penh, Cambodia with tours of the city.

Avalon Waterways

The Avalon Expression on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon

Why Go?

River cruising conveniently takes you in one conveyance to a vast array of cultural, historic and scenic sites with so many of Europe’s major capitals (Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade) and most picturesque towns growing up along the banks. In Asia, South America and Egypt, river cruises access cultures, natural scenery and wildlife, and historical wonders in ways that overland touring can’t.

When to Go?

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

South American cruises generally take place from January to July and September to November. In India, cruises generally take place in the cooler months of January and February, and September to November, while Mekong cruises are generally year-round. In Egypt, cruises are also offered year-round.

Sustainability Initiatives

The company has removed all single use plastics from their cruises and supports The Ocean Cleanup organization.

Activities & Entertainment

The line offers a lot of included excursions and activities. Excursions ashore may be on foot when the dock is convenient to the destination or otherwise via bus and offer a range of interest levels with local guides, from classic sightseeing to hands-on discovery experiences to active ventures.

The AvalonGo Mobile App aids in self-guided exploration. The onboard cruise director provides commentary at significant locations throughout the cruise. An Adventure host guides fitness activities and active excursions. The “Active Discovery” cruises on the Danube offer hiking, biking and canoeing and opportunities to explore an ice cave or salt mine. Other activities can include archery or cooking lessons.

Onboard entertainment will showcase local musicians and singers after dinner and special interest talks while underway.

Avalon Waterways

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

SHIPS 
Avalon Suite Ships (Europe)

Avalon’s European fleet of 14 riverboats, known as Suite Ships, are almost identical, so this write up refers to all of them. Built for a capacity of either 128 or 166 passengers, all of them have four decks, with elevator access.

Avalon Illumination

The Avalon Illumination, a Suite Ship. * Photo: Avalon

 

Passengers have a choice of three dining venues, from the al fresco Sky Grill to casual meals at the Panorama Bistro or an elegant 4-course dinner under floor-to-ceiling windows at the Panorama dining room or 24-hour coffee and snacks. Menus feature regional cuisines and have an abundance of healthy choices.

All riverboats share a forward Observation Lounge, forward Panorama Lounge and bar and aft-facing Club Lounge with a book and games library. The Sky Deck is laid out stem to stern with open and covered deck space for lounge chairs, whirlpool and game area. There’s also a fitness center.

Avalon Suite Ships come with large cabins and substantially different configuration — for example the 200 sq. ft. Panorama Suites and 300 sq. ft. Royal Suites in which the beds face a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling glass expanse that slides open to the outside railing, rather than arranging the beds, as most do, parallel to the windows. The sensation gives your entire cabin a feeling of a cozy, protected balcony with a clear view to the outside.

In cabin: en suite, TV with entertainment options, complementary Wi-Fi, minibar.

A 200 square-foot Panorama Suite. * Avalon Waterways

Avalon Siem Reap

Avalon Saigon

Along the Mekong, Avalon Waterways operates two 36-passenger sister ships, Avalon Siem Reap and Avalon Saigon.

Avalon Saigon

The Avalon Saigon. * Photo: Avalon

Despite their diminutive size (each has only two decks), they are still Avalon Suite Ships, as each has signature cabins open to the outside with 14-ft. sliding glass doors and windows; they measure 245 sq. ft. A forward-facing covered lounge provides a 180-degree view and connects to an interior air-conditioned panorama lounge with bar.

The aft dining room seats all at once for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menus offer both Asian and western dishes.

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

The ships also have a fitness room, sundeck with plenty of shade, a spa treatment room and library with games.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, in-house telephone, safe, hair dryer, and complimentary bottled water

Avalon Cruise, Mekong

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

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

If you’re lucky, this is Angkor Wat at sunrise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ganges Voyager

A 56-passenger riverboat decorated in colonial-era style, Ganges Voyager has three decks (there is no elevator).

The Panorama Dining Room offers Indian and western menus and includes beer, wine and soft drinks with meals.

There’s also an air-conditioned lounge with glass walls and another shady al fresco lounge, a fitness room, spa treatment room and library with games.

Most cabins measure between 260-280 sq. ft., some with pretty four-poster beds, all with French balcony. 

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, TV with on-demand movies, in-house telephone, minibar, safe, hair dryer.

Ganges Voyager

Ganges Voyager. * Photo: Avalon

Ganges Voyager

Heritage Suite on Ganges Voyager. * Photo: Avalon Cruises

Treasure of Galapagos

Accommodating 16 passengers, Treasure of the Galapagos has cabins and common areas on three decks (no elevator).

Common areas include a dining room, indoor lounge and bar, shaded outdoor lounge, sun deck with Jacuzzi and observation area.

Cabins measure 215 sq. ft., and all have balconies, while the master suite is 430 sq. ft. with two balconies.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, safe, hair dryer.

Treasure of Galapagos

Treasure of Galapagos. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

Delphin III

Cruising the Amazon, Delphin III’s three decks are built to accommodate 44 passengers with a dining room, indoor and outdoor lounge (with nightly entertainment), an outdoor plunge pool, exercise room, spa, and excursion skiffs on board.

Most cabins are 237 sq. ft. and all have large picture windows.

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, complimentary filtered water, safe, hair dryer.

Avalon Waterways

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

Avalon Waterways

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

MS Farah

On five decks, MS Farah has a lot of facilities including a large restaurant (with vegetarian options on the menu), barbecue on the sun deck, pool and pool bar, lounge bar, library dedicated to Brazilian lyricist and novelist Paulo Coelho and fitness center with sauna and steam rooms. They even hold cooking classes on board.

Avalon Farah

The 120-passenger Farah. * Photo: Avalon

There are 60 cabins, most of which are 239 sq. ft. All have floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows for excellent views. There are also a pair of royal suites

In cabin: en suite, individual climate control, TV with cable programming, Internet, tea & coffee-making facilities, minibar, safe, hair dryer.

Avalon Waterways

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

Along the Same Lines

Emerald Waterways and AmaWaterways offer comparable itineraries on Europe’s rivers and canals.

Contact

Avalon Waterways, US-based; Avalonwaterways.com; +1 (877) 797-8791

TWS

 

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Alaska cruise adventures aboard UnCruise's Legacy

Small-Ship Alaska Cruise Adventures.

By Judi Cohen.

The moment I arrived in sunny Juneau where my Uncruise “Glacier Country Adventure” would begin and end, I knew this would be no ordinary 7-night Alaska cruise. As we were welcomed aboard the 90-passenger S.S. Legacy, UnCruise owner Dan Blanchard flashed the cruise brochure and exclaimed: “These brochures are out of date as soon as they’re printed. Everything on the planned route is subject to change based on the weather, park permits and wildlife sightings — Mother Nature will be in charge.”

With no traditional “ports of call” during the 614-nautical-mile cruise, the Legacy would serve as a wildlife and adventure platform and our comfortable home.

Alaska cruise adventures aboard UnCruise's Legacy

The charming 90-passenger Legacy. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Introducing the SS Legacy

The 192-foot S.S. Legacy, built in 1984 (and renovated in 2018) as a replica of a Victorian-era steamboat, would have fit perfectly into an Alaskan Gold Rush movie.

While there was nothing fancy about the Legacy, I found her Victorian-style décor and furnishings exceedingly comfortable and welcoming.

Her four decks include a sun deck with two hot tubs, an exercise room and lounge chairs. An elevator between Decks 1 and 3 makes it easy for those with mobility issues.

Alaska cruise writer Judi Cohen aboard UnCruise's Legacy

Writer Judi Cohen at the bow of the 90-passenger Legacy. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

The dining room and Pesky Barnacle Saloon are on Deck 1, while the lounge and bar are set on Deck 2 along with some cabins. The rest of the cabins line Deck 3.

Most of the 48 passengers on my Alaska cruise were active and fit with an average age of 50. We had options for morning and afternoon excursions including free and guided kayaking, bushwacking, “yak and wack” (combo kayaking and bushwacking), and skiff tours — tours on small 12-passenger inflatable boats. Morning stretch class or yoga was offered on the sun deck.

An Alaska cruise on a small ship

Excursions by skiff were a daily event on Judi’s Alaska cruise. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Wonderfully All-Inclusive

Adventure equipment (kayaks, paddleboards and skiffs) were carried on a portable launch pad called the “Sea Dragon.” Equipment like walking poles and “Alaskan Tennis Shoes,” aka rubber boots, could be borrowed. And lessons and excursions are included.

Alaska cruise and kayaking excursions

Judi and Lawrence being lowered into the water off the Sea Dragon platform. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Wine, spirits, soft drinks, juices, snacks, coffee and tea are also included. Wine could be ordered by the glass or bottle and Kyle the bartender was open to all requests.

There was a signature cocktail in the lounge before dinner that we enjoyed with hors d’oeuvres daily. Coffee, tea and snacks were always available.

The busy Lounge and bar

Lounge and bar: a hive of activity all the time! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Naturalists & Crew

There were five naturalists and experts on board our Alaska cruise. They were our expedition guides, sharing their knowledge and passion about Alaska’s wildlife, plants and history on board and during our many excursions.

In addition, Kate Troll and Bill Hanson, Alaska residents since the 1970’s, were invited onboard to provide a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to live, work and play in Southeast Alaska. Called “Alaska Insiders,” they never ran short of interesting stories shared in the lounge, dining room and the bow, and during our excursions.

They told us about their careers in natural resources, and their lives as hunters and foragers. The pair spoke about changes in the glaciers, wildlife, local people, variety of salmon, and effects of commercial fisheries. I learned, for instance, that Alaskan salmon is the gold standard due to stringent sustainability legislation.

Kate read passages from her book, The Great Unconformity – Reflections on Hope in an Imperiled World, and spoke about the dramatic changes she has seen in Alaska.

Alaska cruise with UnCruise lecturer Kate Judi with Kate

Judi with Kate, one of the cruise’s “Alaska Insider” special lecturers. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Bill shared a passionate story during a presentation about hunting for venison, discussing their connection to the land and the necessity to eat what they harvest. I was moved when Bill said “there is some sadness felt about killing a deer.” He explained the ritual of putting their favorite food in the deer’s mouth, placing his hand on the dead deer, and saying thank you for giving them food.

The Uncruise team, notably the expert guides, Sarah, Andrew, Jessie, Teresa, Bobby and the expedition leader, Megan, along with  Captain Tim Voss, were all vital in making our awesome Alaska cruise as memorable as it was. No doubt they loved what they were doing and encouraged us to try everything, going out of their way for first-timers like us.

They generously shared their experiences and knowledge during our excursions and onboard the ship. In the same spirit, the captain welcomed everyone in the bridge whenever we were sailing.

On cruising days, the captain excitedly announced wildlife sightings, as everyone poured out onto the bow or the top-deck of the ship. The guides were as excited as the guests to see and talk about the sightings.

Alaska cruise mountain goat sighting

Guides pointing out bearded mountain goats in Glacier Bay. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Alaska cruise wildlife

Bearded mountain goats in Glacier Bay. * Photo: Uncruise

Cozy  & Compact Cabins

Cabins range from 110 square feet to a 600-square-foot two-room “Owner’s Suite” on the sun deck with its own wet bar and library. All have outside windows, and accommodate singles, triples and quads. Each offers a private bathroom with shower, bathrobes, alarm clock, safe, small flat-screen TV with DVD player, and an iPod docking station.

My cabin (306) on deck 3 was a 145-square-foot “Commander” category, with a private bathroom with shower, and a window and a door opening to the outdoor promenade. With fixed twin wooden beds, storage drawers, small desk, and closet with a safe and binoculars (to borrow), we had room to move around and unpack all of our clothing and gear.

A nice surprise was that we could drink the water from all sources on the ship, including in our bathroom.

Cabin #306 aboard the 90-passenger Legacy

Judi’s cabin, #306. * Photo: Judi Cohen

I loved seeing the sunrise from the bow. It was my favorite place on the Legacy. With my hair blowing and the ship’s flag waving, all I could hear was the movement of the water and the call of seabirds.

There is something romantic about being out front on the bow. Day or night, it’s like having a front row seat to the greatest nature show on earth.

Alaska cruise with writer Judi Cohen on bow

Judi on the bow of the SS Legacy. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

One night, we were woken up with an announcement to get out on deck if we wanted to see the Aurora Borealis on the port side. Everyone scrambled from their rooms. Some came out in bathrobes, while others quickly threw on some clothes.

Alas, by the time I made it out the colors remained for only a few seconds, replaced by large white streaks of light in the dark sky. I guess seeing the Aurora Borealis will remain on my wish list for a future Alaska cruise.

The Grand Salon Lounge and Bar

The Lounge on deck 2 was the ship’s hub, with its welcoming bar area that comprised a small library with books and DVD’s (a good thing since there is no internet access on the Legacy). It was the gathering area not only for drinks, but also presentations, games and general relaxation. There were comfortable sofas, marble-topped tables, and large picture windows.

The Klondike Dining Room

The dining room on deck 1 was bright and warm with large windows, an old-fashioned tin ceiling, two-tone wooden pillars and carpeted floors. It featured a mix of booths along the windows with larger round tables in the center.

Dining Room with swinging doors into Pesky Barnacle saloon

Dining Room with swinging doors into Pesky Barnacle saloon. * Photo: Judi Cohen

I enjoyed sitting with different guests at each meal since there was no assigned seating. We regaled each other with stories about the day’s adventures and talked about the day ahead.

Swinging saloon doors from the dining room opened to the Pesky Barnacle Saloon with wrap-around windows and a poker room vibe. It was the perfect place to play cards or just enjoy the panoramic view. On our sailing, the space was also used as a place to gather before excursions, don lifejackets, put on sunscreen, and fill our reusable water bottles.

Getting ready in the Pesky Barnacle

Getting ready in the Pesky Barnacle lounge. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Mealtime was Pure Joy

With many active and fit guests on our Alaska cruise, there were healthy options that also satisfied cosmopolitan foodies like my husband and me. All of our meals were served in courses, like dining in a restaurant.

Breakfast was served at 7:30 or 8:00am depending on the planned activities, and always included choices of eggs, yogurt, fruit, bacon, and fresh squeezed orange juice. A daily omelette made with a choice of carmelized leek, manchego, artichokes, chorizo and other ingredients.

And if that wasn’t enough, there were frittatas with roasted peppers and a crispy kale topping, blueberry pancakes with whipped cream, a full English breakfast, and cornflake-crusted French toast with bananas foster topping.

Full Breakfast with all the fixins

Full Breakfast with all the fixins. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Lunch one day included bison chili, vegetarian chili or a mixed salad with hardboiled eggs, shredded chicken and tortilla strips. On another day we had the choice of BBQ brisket, pulled jackfruit with coleslaw, mac ‘n cheese, or a salad with sockeye salmon.

There were no bad choices! Delicious freshly-baked breads, pastries and desserts accompanied every meal.

Following happy hour in the lounge, dinner was served at 6:30pm. Our dinners always started with a homemade bread and an appetizer or antipasti board with cheeses like baked brie, gruyere or blue-cheese custard, nuts, poached apples or other jams and berries.

An appetizer shared board with blue cheese, date topping, carrot butter, fruit, nuts and fig bread

An appetizer shared board with blue cheese, date topping, carrot butter, fruit, nuts and fig bread. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Our plated dinner included a meat, fish and vegetarian option. I found it difficult to choose one night from among beef tenderloin with mushrooms and demi-fried shallots, Coho salmon with rhubarb marmalade and pickled strawberries, or the vegetarian beet Wellington with leek cream and roasted radish.

Two of my favorite meals were the pepper-crusted lamb popsicles with fenugreek curry and the poached ling cod with cilantro basil oil.

Lamb Popsicles with fenugreek curry and charred broccoli.

Lamb Popsicles with fenugreek curry and charred broccoli. YUM! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Our all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab dinner was both a gourmet treat and a learning experience as we mastered how to crack the claws and pull the meat out of the shells.

Dungeness Crab Dinner with guests from Australia, UK,and California

Dungeness Crab Dinner with guests from Australia, UK and California. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Chef Cooper kept bringing out large bowls of crabs. It was quite a messy job and I concluded that it would not be wise to order Dungeness crab on a first date!

Alaska cruise dining on Dungeness crabs

Chef Cooper with Dungeness crabs galore. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Desserts were beautifully presented and always worth saving room for. The pastry chef’s creations included pumpkin cake with fresh whipped cream; fruity pebbles, candy floss and root beer macarons; and salty toffee brownies that could all have come from the finest gourmet bakery!

Dessert, fruity pebbles and candy floss macarons

Delish dessert: fruity pebbles and candy floss macarons. * Photo: Judi Cohen

A Week of Non-stop Adventure 

Map from bulletin board, updated daily

Map from bulletin board, updated daily. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 1: Juneau

We were welcomed aboard around 4pm by the captain and crew, shown to our cabins and given a safety briefing. Before we knew it, our Alaska cruise had begun and we were on our way to Glacier Bay National Park.

With almost 15 hours of daylight at this time of year, we enjoyed the golden sunshine on the bow until late in the evening.

Day 2: Tidal Inlet & Glacier Bay National Park

We anchored in Tidal Inlet with breathtaking views of the snow-peaked mountains, rocky shores and the glassy smooth water for most of the day.

Alaska cruise reflections in the waters of Glacier Bay

Stunning reflections in the water in Glacier Bay. * Photo: Judi Cohen

I was very excited that my husband and I, along with nine other guests, chose to take the “Kayak 101” lesson with Bobby from the expedition staff. After 90 minutes we were both confident and comfortable in our kayak.

Judi and Lawrence in a Kayak

Judi and Lawrence at the Kayak 101 training, at Tidal Inlet in Glacier Bay. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We were thrilled to embrace this learning opportunity and could hardly wait to kayak again on our Alaska cruise.

Alaska cruise kayaking

Judi fell in love with kayaking on her UnCruise Alaska adventure. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Following lunch, Ranger Caitie, who boarded at Bartlett Cove wearing her National Parks uniform, gave an orientation session on Glacier National Park. She noted that “only two large cruise ships, four small ships, and a few kayaks are allowed in the park at a time.”

So this part of the trip felt like a privilege, especially since we would be in the park for two full days!

Judi with Ranger Caitie before she departed in Bartlett Cove

Judi with Ranger Caitie before she departed in Bartlett Cove. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

As the Legacy sailed along Tarr Inlet in Glacier Bay, Kate pointed out the partially hidden Grand Pacific Glacier in the distance where Canada meets Alaska.

We slowly approached the majestic blue-veined Margerie Glacier and Ranger Caitie requested a moment of silence. We stood on the bow listening to the glacier grumbling and bergy bits growling and crackling in the water all around the ship; it was a highlight of my Alaska cruise.

Alaska cruise approaching Margerie Glacier

Approaching Margerie Glacier. * Photo: Judi Cohen

With the clear skies, we were able to see the snow-covered jagged peak of Mount Fairweather, the highest mountain in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

Lawrence on the sundeck

Lawrence on the sundeck. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 3: Lamplugh Glacier & South Marble Island

A planned morning skiff ride and beach walk near the magnificent Lamplugh Glacier quickly changed to just a long skiff ride after a brown bear was spotted a short distance away on the beach and another bear was swimming towards the beach.

We passed slowly by the odorous South Marble Island with lazy sea lions and seals making belching and farting noises. Meanwhile, loads of seabirds were flying overhead. Humpback whale blows and flukes could be seen in the distance.

Alaska cruise wildlife includes Sea Lions

Sea Lions enjoying the sunshine on South Marble Island. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Before lunch about half of the passengers and many of the staff did a “polar plunge” off the Sea Dragon into the frigid waters of Glacier Bay. The rest of us cheered them on (I have to admit, I hate cold water and couldn’t fathom jumping in!).

Alaska cruise UnCruise Polar Plunge

Polar Plunge in Glacier Bay. Brrrrr! * Photo: Judi Cohen

We then sailed to drop off Ranger Caitie at Glacier National Park headquarters in Bartlett Cove. Along the way we saw many bears digging for food on the shore — and we could see them without binoculars, that’s how close they were (this could never happen on a big-ship cruise!).

The sight of a mother brown bear with two fuzzy cubs was my best Mother’s Day gift ever! My Alaska cruise was even better than I had imagined.

Mama Brown Bear and Two Cubs

Mama Brown bear and two cubs on Mothers Day! * Photo: Judi Cohen

After dinner, we all went for a walk to see the Huna Tribal House on the shoreline of Bartlett Cove. We admired the carved totems and the exterior painting representing the stories of the Glacier Bay clans.

Guests walked along the one-mile Bartlett River shoreline trail or just relaxed on the sandy beach near the dock to enjoy the colors and listen to the sounds of the birds.

Huna House Bartlett Cove in Glacier National Park

Huna House in Bartlett Cove in Glacier National Park. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 4: Neka Bay Wildlife Extravaganza

The Legacy was anchored in the untouched wilderness and the quiet calm in Neka Bay. Our morning skiff tour turned out to be a wildlife extravaganza, with eagles, gulls, golden plover, pigeon guillemot, harlequin ducks and sliders.

Alaska Cruise Bald Eagle Sighting

A majestic Bald Eagle sighting. * Photo: Judi Cohen

We were treated to humpback whales blowing and breaching, and harbor seals and porpoises playing near our skiff.

When we returned to the ship, I decided to do some free-kayaking for an hour before lunch in magical and serene Neka Bay.

Judi and Lawrence free-kayaking in Neka Bay

Judi and Lawrence free-kayaking in Neka Bay.

In the afternoon we were dropped off on a rocky beach with an array of spitting clams, starfish that were 10-20 inches across, and red rock crabs. Here we would experience a two-hour bushwack.

Giant starfish on Judi's hat before bushwacking trek.

Giant starfish on Judi’s hat before bushwacking trek. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Our guide yelled “aaayo” loudly many times to let any bears know that we arrived. Unlike a hike along a marked path, bushwacking required effort and attention as we made our own way through the forested and mossy undergrowth. We stopped to learn about the moss, fungus and flowers and even tasted some of them.

Judi bushwacking

Judi bushwacking! * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

I worked up quite a sweat and peeled off my layers of clothing right down to a T-shirt! When we made it to a clearing, we spotted a lumbering brown bear and quickly planned a detour back to our skiff.

Our many bear sightings were definitely a very special feature of an Alaska cruise on a small, nimble ship like the Legacy, that can meanuever close to shore.

We sailed all evening and night to Thomas Bay, also called “The Bay of Death” or “Devil’s Country.” As the story goes, early prospectors reported seeing “Kushtaka,” the shape-shifting creatures of Tlingit tribal legend that can take the form of man or otter.

We passed Huna, a fishing village, that is now a cruise ship dock with the longest zipline in North America. Thankfully we did not stop here!

Captain Voss announced that a pod of Orca killer whales were on our port side. He stopped the ship so we could enjoy them bobbing and moving gracefully. The guides even lowered a microphone into the water to hear them better.

Killer Whales portside - binoculars focused

Killer Whales port side: binoculars focused! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 5: Scenery Cove & Baird Glacier 

Our morning excursion was a skiff ride in Scenery Cove, just in front of Baird Glacier. We navigated around large oddly-shaped grounded icebergs of many colors, which is only possible in a skiff with a very experienced operator familiar with the changing tides and water levels.

We did an easy guided hike in the afternoon up to Cascade Creek to see a winding waterfall that flowed from the top of the mountain down through rocks and forests. The mist from the waterfalls made the steep rocky stairs very slippery, so ropes were available along the sides for stability.

Hiking at Cascade Creek Alaska

Hiking at Cascade Creek. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Day 6: Robert & Crow Islands, Plus Woodspit

This morning our skiff was surrounded by dozens of playful Steller sea lions as we soaked in the lush green surroundings. We spotted Arctic terns, puffins, cormorants and murrelets and other birds.

Lawrence and Earl on a skiff

Lawrence and Earl on a skiff. * Photo: Judi Cohen

On our way to Woodspit in the afternoon, we were on a whale search and sure enough Captain Voss spotted a pod of Humpback whales.

Humpback Whale fluke

Humpback Whale fluke. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The breaching whales put on a show that lasted a couple of hours. The ship turned several times so we could get the best views.

What a show!

On the bow watching humpbacks

On the bow watching humpbacks. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 7: Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier — The Highlight of my Trip!

This was the highlight of the trip for me as we sailed through the sapphire-colored near-frozen waters in Endicott Arm surrounded by turquoise icebergs. I was on the bridge as we sailed through this tranquil paradise with waterfalls, forests and ice.

On the Bridge with Captain Voss heading towards Dawes Glacier

On the bridge with Captain Voss heading towards Dawes Glacier. * Photo: Judi Cohen

On our skiff tour we heard the crackling of icebergs in the water as we moved closer to the face of Dawes Glacier — over 600 feet tall and a mile wide. We witnessed the thundering sound of the calving glacier when giant chunks of ice broke off and crashed into the water without warning, creating waves that rocked our skiff.

It was a sobering reminder of the reality of climate change and a dramatic way to end the cruise.

Day 8: Disembarkation in Juneau

When we disembarked in Juneau, Dan Blanchard took us on a fascinating tour of downtown Juneau pointing out the rich history of prospecting and gold mines. We had succulent Alaskan halibut and chips on the pier and took in our last views of the beautiful cloud-shrouded mountains, lush forest and choppy seas before our transfer to the airport.

Lawrence Cohen enjoying our last Alaskan Fish and Chips on the dock in Juneau

Lawrence Cohen enjoying our last Alaskan Fish and Chips on the dock in Juneau. * Photo: Judi Cohen

End Note

I was grateful for the opportunity to be unplugged and disconnected from my normal wired life, and reveled in reconnecting with my body and curious spirit on this very special Alaska cruise. Blessed with a week of sunshine, I enjoyed all of the adventurous activities and up-close wildlife sightings in the water, on land and in the sky.

My interest has been piqued, and I look forward to seeing more of the untouched wilderness and incredible miracles of Mother Nature in Alaska. I hope to return again one day for more adventure and genuine UnCruise hospitality!

UnCruise’s 7-night “Glacier Country Adventure” cruise starts at $4,795. per person; click here for more details.

Alaska cruise aboard UnCruise's Legacy

The Legacy is an excellent way to explore Alaska’s Inside passage.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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small cruise ships types

91 Small Ship Cruise Lines By Type

We’re the ONLY travel site out there that covers so many small-ship cruise lines in reviews, feature articles and photos — we’re up to 91 small-ship cruise lines and counting! QuirkyCruise.com offers original, quality writing about this wonderful corner of the travel world.

To help you browse, dream and plan your next small-ship cruise, we categorize our 91 small ship lines (with vessels under 300 passengers) into 5 cruise types:

Coastal Ships  ✴️ Expedition Ships   ✴️  Oceangoing Ships   ✴️  River Boats   ✴️  Sailing Ships

 

Coastal Ships

Coastal small ship cruises

Safari Voyage. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

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

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Argyll Cruising

Alaska Marine Highway

American Cruise Lines

Atlas Ocean Tours

Blount Small Ship Adventures

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Captain Cook Cruises

Croisières Jacques-Cartier

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS

Ecoventura

Hebridean Island Cruises

Hurtigruten

Magna Carta Steamship Company

Majestic Line

Marine Link Tours

Overseas Adventure Travel

Pacific Catalyst

Pandaw River Cruises

Patricia Cruises

Pearl Seas Cruises

Pitcairn Island’s Claymore II

Puffer Steamboat Holidays VIC 32

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

SeaDream Yacht Club

UnCruise Adventures

Victory Cruise Lines

Expedition Ships

Expedition small ship cruises

The Stella Australis. * Photo: Australis

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

Abercrombie & Kent

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Alaskan Dream Cruises

Aurora Expeditions

Australis

Celebrity Cruises’ Xpedition

Xpedition

Coral Expeditions

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS

Ecoventura

G Adventures

Grand Circle Cruise Line

GreenTracks

Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises

Haumana Cruises

Hurtigruten

Lindblad Expeditions

Oceanwide Expeditions

One Ocean Expeditions

Overseas Adventure Travel

Ponant

Poseidon Expeditions

Quark Expeditions

Quasar Expeditions

Seabourn Expeditions

SeaTrek Adventure Cruises

Silversea Expeditions

Tauck

UnCruise Adventures

Zegrahm Expeditions

Oceangoing Ships

Star Pride. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

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

Abercrombie & Kent

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

Compagnie Polynesienne

Crystal Yacht Expedition Cruises

Grand Circle Cruise Line

Paul Gauguin Cruises

Pitcairn Island’s Claymore II

Ponant

SeaDream Yacht Club

Silverseas Cruises

Tauck

Vantage World Travel

Windstar Cruises

Zegrahm Expeditions

River Vessels

River going small ship cruises

The River Empress * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Easy to identify, they offer a hugely popular means to get into the interior of a country or continent. As a matter of course, river boats may also ply canals and cross bays and lakes to cover many hundreds of island water miles. Europe, Asia, and North America offer the most diverse opportunities for river cruising, while South America brings to mind the Amazon and its numerous tributaries, and Africa the Nile. This section also include canal barges.

Abercrombie & Kent

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

AMAWaterways

American Cruise Lines

American Queen Steamboat Company

Aqua Expeditions

A-Rosa

Avalon Waterways

Barge Lady Cruises

Blount Small Ship Adventures

CroisiEurope

Crystal River Cruises

Delfin Amazon Cruises

Emerald Waterways

French America Line

G Adventures

Gota Canal Steamship Company

Grand Circle Cruise Line

GreenTracks

Le Boat

Lindblad Expeditions

Magna Carta Steamship Company

Murray River Cruises

Ontario Waterway Cruises Inc.

Overseas Adventure Travel

Pearl Seas Cruises

Puffer Steamboat Holidays VIC 32

Riviera River Cruises

St. Lawrence Cruise Lines

Scenic Cruises

Tauck

UnCruise Adventures

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Vantage World Travel

Victoria Cruises

Victory Cruise Lines

Viking River Cruises

Sailing Ships

Sea Cloud

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

Abercrombie & Kent

AdventureSmith Explorations (Tour Operator)

G Adventures

Lindblad

Oceanwide Expeditions

Ponant

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Sea Cloud Cruises

Silhouette Cruises

Silolona Sojourns

Star Clippers

Trinity Sailing

Vantage World Travel

Windstar Cruises

Zegrahm Expeditions

 

And if you’ve been on a small-ship cruise lately, we’d love to hear about it in our Reader Reviews section!  

If you’re not yet a subscriber, please sign up for our QuirkyCruise Newsletter for monthly updates!

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

small-ship Croatia cruise offers

Small-Ship Croatia Cruise Offers

Our partners at The Small Cruise Ship Collection (SCSC) are sharing these small-ship Croatia cruise offers for summer 2019. For more details or to book, click on the links to go to the agency’s website. For more info about SCSC and its co-founder, click here.  Note SCSC fares are in British pounds.

 

Small Ship Cruise Collection's Powell Ettinger

 

 

Happy small-ship cruising! 🤩

 

Venice, Kotor Bay & Dubrovnik Luxury Sailing Cruise in Summer 2019

Cruise: 7 nights, from Venice to Dubrovnik; June 1 & June 15 2019 departures.

Offer: 40% off special offer; before discount fares start at £2205 +£86 port fees.

Vessel:  36-passenger SV Klara.

Visit The Small Cruise Ship Collection website to book.

SV Klara

 

Luxury Croatia Cruise in Summer 2019

Cruise: 7 nights, round-trip from Split, Croatia; June 22 & June 29 2019 departures.

Offer: 25% off special offer;  before discount fares start at £1305 per person.

Vessel: 40-passenger MV President; built in 2011.

Visit The Small Cruise Ship Collection website to book.

small-ship Croatia cruise offers

MV President

 

Another Luxury Croatia Cruise in Summer 2019

Cruise: 7 nights, from Split to Dubrovnik; June 8 & August 31 2019 departures.

Offer: £150-250 off per person special offer; fares before discount start at £1435 per person.

Vessel: 40-passenger MV Diamond.

Visit The Small Cruise Ship Collection website to book.

small-ship Croatia cruise offers

MV Diamond

 

And One More Luxury Croatia Cruise in Summer 2019

Cruise: 7 nights; round-trip from Split; June 8 2019 departure.

Offer: 25% off special offer; fare before discount start at £1345 per person.

Vessel: 40-passenger MV New Star; built in 2018.

Visit The Small Cruise Ship Collection website to book.

small-ship Croatia cruise offers

MV New Star

 

NOTE

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

 

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Solo Cruiser Offers

Solo Cruise Offers on Riviera River Cruises

 

Have a look at these special small-ship cruise offers for solo travelers from the folks at Cruise Traveller, an Australia-based small-ship expert. For more details or to book, click on the links to go to the agency’s website.

Click here for more info about Cruise Traveller.

Also check our QuirkyCruise’s recent article on the “Best Europe River Cruise Lines for Solos” … Riviera is on the list of course!

Cruises below are available to Australian passengers only.

Happy small-ship cruising!

 

Cruise Traveller

 

 

Solo Cruise Offers

 

France for Solos in 2020: Burgundy, The River Rhone & Provence

Cruise Package: 7-night river cruise from Avignon to Lyon, departures from April to October 2020.

Ship: Riviera’s 140-passenger MS Lord Byron; built in 2013.

Offer Includes:

  • 7-night river cruise aboard MS Lord Byron between Avignon and Lyon
  • All shipboard main meals
  • All shore excursions
  • Complimentary wi-fi and onboard tea & coffee

➢➢Fares for solo occupancy of an Emerald (lower deck) cabin with window from $2,859 AUD per person (no single supplement; based on 16 Apr 20 departure).

Expires: valid until sold out/withdrawn — limited availability on each cruise.

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

* Offer available to Australian guests only.

Solo Cruiser Offers

Lord Byron

Solo Cruiser Offers

France for Solos in 2020: Burgundy, The River Rhone & Provence


Germany & Austria for Solos in 2020: Vienna, Bohemia & the Danube

Cruise Package: 7-night river cruise round-trip from Vienna; departures July – September 2020.

Ship: 169-passenger Thomas Hardy; built 2017.

Offer Includes:

  • 7-night river cruise aboard the Riviera’s MS Thomas from Vienna Return
  • All shipboard meals
  • All shore excursions
  • Complimentary wi-fi and onboard tea & coffee

➢➢FARES for solo occupancy of an Emerald (lower deck) cabin with window from $3,199* AUD per person.

Expires: valid until sold out/withdrawn – limited space on each cruise.

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

* Offer available to Australian guests only.

Solo Cruiser Offers

Thomas Hardy

Solo Cruiser Offers

Germany & Austria for Solos in 2020: Vienna, Bohemia & the Danube


Danube River for Solos Only in 2020

Cruise Package: 7-night SOLOS ONLY river cruise round-trip from Budapest; departures in March and November 2020.

Ship: 169-passenger Riviera’s MS Robert Burns; built in 2018.

Offer Includes:

  • 7-night river cruise aboard MS Robert Burns round-trip from Budapest on an ALL SOLO TRAVELLER departure
  • All shipboard main meals
  • All shore excursions
  • Complimentary wi-fi and onboard tea & coffee

➢➢FARES for solo occupancy of an Emerald (lower deck) cabin with window from $2,749 AUD per person; solo occupancy of a Ruby (middle deck) cabin with French Balcony from $3,549 AUD per person: solo occupancy of Diamond (upper deck) cabin with French Balcony from $3,779 AUD per person (no single supplement, based on 30 March 2020 departure).

Expires: valid until sold out/withdrawn.

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

* Offer available to Australian guests only.

Rob

Robert Burns

Solo Cruiser Offers

Danube River for Solos Only in 2020


Rhine River for SOLOS ONLY in 2020: Rhine, Strasbourg & Heidelberg

Cruise Package: 7-night river cruise round-trip from Cologne return, departs 31 October 2020.

Ship: 169-passenger MS Oscar Wilde; built 2017.

Offer Includes:

  • 7-night river cruise aboard MS Oscar Wilde round-trip from Cologne on an ALL SOLO TRAVELLER departure
  • All shipboard main meals
  • All shore excursions
  • Complimentary wi-fi and onboard tea & coffee

➢➢FARES for solo occupancy of an Emerald (lower deck) cabin with window from $3,249 AUD per person; solo occupancy of a Ruby (middle deck) cabin with French Balcony from $4,049 AUD per person; solo occupancy of Diamond (upper deck) cabin with French Balcony from $4,279 AUD per person (no single supplement on any category).

Expires: valid until sold out/withdrawn.

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

* Offer available to Australian guests only.

Oscar Wilde

Solo Cruiser Offers

Rhine River for SOLOS ONLY in 2020: Rhine, Strasbourg & Heidelberg


Portugal for SOLOS ONLY in 2020: Douro, Porto & Salamanca River

Cruise Package: 7-night river cruise round-trip from Porto; departures November 2020.

Ship: 126-passenger Douro Splendour; built 2018.

Offer Includes:

  • 7-night river cruise aboard MS Douro Splendour (or sister ship Douro Elegance) round-trip from Porto on an ALL SOLO TRAVELLER departure
  • All shipboard main meals
  • All shore excursions
  • Complimentary wi-fi and onboard tea & coffee

➢➢FARES for solo occupancy of a Lower deck cabin with window from $3,709 AUD per person; solo occupancy of a Middle deck cabin with floor to ceiling window from $4,399 AUD per person; solo occupancy of an Upper deck cabin with floor to ceiling window from $4,739 AUD per person (no single supplement on any category).

Expires: until sold out/withdrawn.

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

* Offer available to Australian guests only.

Solo Cruiser Offers

Douro Splendour

Portugal for SOLOS ONLY in 2020: Douro, Porto & Salamanca River

 

 

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

quirkycruise bird

 

 

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Ship Vs. Boat

The Ship Vs. Boat Debate

By Ted Scull.

Does it matter?

Some people can get pretty worked up about the designation. I think it is all fun, because language is fun, and the proper use of language is important for communicating. So, I enter the fray.

Let’s play with the topic a bit before we get to the defining details about what is that floating object or moving vessel out there in the bay.

Vessel is a pretty neutral term that may apply to both — boat or ship — though the word seems a bit archaic and has other meanings.

My First Ship

I probably saw my first ship (and no doubt about it being a ship), when I spied the three stacks of the Queen Mary from the Lincoln Tunnel helix as she (note the feminine and more later about that) was sailing to off Europe.

Ship Vs. Boat

RMS Queen Mary is sailing down the Hudson in the mid-1950s on a five-day crossing to England. * Photographer not known

We were about to drive under the Hudson River (also known as the North River in maritime circles) and on up the coast en route to Woods Hole on Cape Cod and board the boat to Nantucket, arriving three hours later into a harbor full of boats, though not looking at all like ours.

Yes, a long sentence for what was then a very long drive.

Then Steamers

To confuse things a bit, the boats to Nantucket back then were often referred to as steamers or in New England lingo – steamahs. Though some people called them ferry, and indeed it was taking people and vehicles over and back between the mainland and the island. But, they did not look like a Staten Island ferry with both ends the same, a design to eliminate having to turn around for the next trip. It had a bow (pointy end) and stern (backside/rear end).

Ship Vs. Boat

Steamer Nobska leaving Nantucket many years ago. * Photo: Ted Scull

The steamer term came from the steam engine that propelled it as opposed to a diesel engine. The line that operated the steamers was called The Steamship Authority. The last Nantucket steamer was built in 1957, and after that all vessels were diesel-powered. For some, especially nostalgia buffs who loved the old steamers, or simply out of habit, it took a long time for the term steamer to die out.

But, here’s the rub, the Massachusetts-owned line still calls itself The Steamship Authority, and once some years ago simply The Authority, but that was deemed too threatening. So, it reverted to the old name. Today one boat carries an old steam whistle from one of the original 1920s steamers. Yup, there is still pride and a sense of history.

Now most people say ferry or ferryboat or boat. Most locals and summer people would laugh if you said ship.

Why? Size and where it operates. More about that in a bit.

Taking the Boat

Decades ago, a coveted way of asking someone who was planning a trip to Europe was to inquire, “Are you taking the boat or flying?” rather than using ship which it (she) undoubtably was.

Some English or Brits like to use understatement (as do some Anglophile Americans), hence preferred the diminutive word “boat.” If you wanted to argue about it, they might be prepared to add, “Well then when you get to England, what do you transfer to that takes you up to London?”

The Boat Train

Now there can be no argument here, as that term was the official designation of the connecting railway service from the dock in Southampton or Liverpool. So why not “ship train” after disembarking from a ship?

I have no idea, and I think boat train rolls off the tongue more easily.

Ship Vs. Boat

Standing alongside the Boat Train from Southampton up to London. * Photographer unknown

Another peculiarity with the English is that any train bound for London is always a train up to London, no matter if it started out in Edinburgh and traveled 393 miles south to London. Trains were either up or down and that had nothing to do with the compass direction. The capital city liked a sense of importance.

Do come up to London to see us before you go back down to your residence.

The terminology was also exported to the colonies. If you arrived at Mombasa, Kenya’s main port, the train to Nairobi (the capital) was officially known in the timetables as “UP 1” and from Nairobi to Mombasa “Down 2.”

Now some people thought, with Mombasa at sea level, you climb up 5,889 feet to reach Nairobi. Yup, but no that is not the reason.

Back to Boats & Ships

Now to fresh water and salt water and boats and ships. The Queen Mary, seen many moons ago when I was a kid, is definitely a ship or a liner as in ocean Liner.

The present Queen Mary 2 is also a ship and a liner and a cruise ship.

She’s a ship, apart from easily qualifying size, because she is designed to cross the oceans of the world and not on lakes or very far up rivers.

Ship Vs. Boat

Queen Mary 2 sailing under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge at the start of an Atlantic crossing. Photo: Ted Scull

Introducing Liner

She’s a liner because the QM2 sails more than half the year on liner or line voyages mostly between Southampton, England and New York, where most passengers then disembark and continue on their merry way.

She is also built to liner specifications, having a reinforced hull and fairly sharp bow that can cut through heavy seas, often without reducing speed. And she also make cruises, sailing to a collection of ports such as the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and once a year on a long world voyage (or cruise) that may be a circumnavigation of the globe or simply a very long itinerary that sails from Atlantic Ocean ports through the Suez Canal to Southeast Asa and comes back home via Cape Town, South Africa.

Again, a long sentence for such an extended itinerary.

Cruise Liner

Some people use cruise liner, and the Queen Mary 2 is both, a true ocean liner and a cruise ship, a term that satisfies many. I accept that grudgingly, because some people use cruise liner for large, sometimes humongous, cruise ships. They participate only in cruises and do not perform regular liner voyages.

You would not want to sail on one of these vessels through heavy seas at the normal service speed, and in fact, the captain would not allow it.

The ship would take a beating from the pressure on the hull at speed, and all aboard would experience the ship slamming into the repetitive walls of water rather than cutting through them.

Salt Water & Fresh Water

So ships are mainly salt water ocean-going vessels, and the term can be applied right down to those with pretty small dimensions.

Vessels that are designed to generally ply bays, sounds, rivers, and inland lakes are usually boats and generally not as large as ocean-going ships. They have flatter bottoms to their hull design to travel in shallow waters, hence, and without stabilizer fins, they would roll from side to side in heavy ocean seas.

However, large lakes can kick up a nasty storm. Look up what happened to the Edmund Fitzgerald crossing Lake Superior.

Excursion boats, dinner boats, ferryboats, tug boats all make sense. Ships they are not.

More Confusion…

But what about some of our Quirky Cruise vessels such as American Cruise Line’s American Star and larger American Constellation and Blount Small Ship AdventuresGrande Caribe and Grande Mariner?

Most mariners would argue that their design is primarily for operating on rivers, inland waterways, lakes, and coastal waters and not to cross oceans and seas and are, therefore, boats.

Blount uses ship in its company title, and I have met captains from both fleets that call them ships. It works, sounds more impressive and nobody really minds, not even me. If asked, the captains would probably agree that they are boats.

Ship Vs. Boat

Blount Small Ship Cruises’ is a boat, seen docked at the Chelsea Piers, New York. * Photo: Ted Scull

Well, if you are not a frequent passenger on cruise vessels, whether the gigantic Symphony of the Seas or the diminutive American Cruise Lines or Blount vessels, it seems reassuringly safer as well as easier to say ship.

The huge iron ore vessels on the Great Lakes are ships in size and largely in design, and they have been called lake boats, or lakers, and ships.

Carriers is another frequently used noun, qualified by bulk carrier or even a bulker as they tend to transport single commodities such as grain or iron ore in vast amounts.

So, did you look up Edmund Fitzgerald? After you do, then listen to this haunting ballad about her disappearance. Click on her photo below.

Ship Vs. Boat

Photo credit to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vST6hVRj2A

Expedition vessels that travel up into the Arctic or south to Antarctica are definitely ships even though many are quite small, taking as few as 100-150 passengers. Most are ruggedly designed as oceangoing ships to handle rough seas.

However, if you have crossed the Drake Passage in truly heavy sea conditions aboard one of these small ships, you may have wished to be on something larger. However, larger is not the only answer. The ship’s inherent design is the key to safety.

One Last Thing: Is a Ship a She or an It?

Ships as “she” came from early mariners who saw their ship as protection, a kind of mother figure. The word ship in English is a neutral term, neither masculine or feminine. However, the French use the masculine “Le” as the article in front of the ship’s name such as Le France, the last of the country’s great ocean liners. The country is a “she” — La France.

President Nixon made a speech in France many years ago, and he ended it with what he thought was the patriotic cheer – Vive Le France – and the audience broke out in laughter.

Classic Richard Nixon. * Photo: Politico

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AmaWaterways' New Wellness Program

AmaWaterways’ New Wellness Program

By John Roberts.

I’m always battling jet lag when I travel to Europe from the United States.

At least for a couple days.

It was more of the same when my wife Colleen and I recently embarked on a 10-day “Dutch Waterways” river cruise round-trip from Amsterdam with AmaWaterways. The first couple nights had us tossing and turning aboard the 164-passenger AmaPrima before we got up around 6 a.m. feeling a bit haggard.

Fortunately, on this sailing, we were offered a good way to kick start our mornings.

We were pretty excited to try out the new Wellness Program, which AmaWaterways offers on a handful of its ships. And AmaPrima’s Wellness Host Andre was there to greet us with a smile in the ship’s lounge each morning as a small group of four to six people would show up for his classes.

AmaWaterways' New Wellness Program

John & Andre. * Photo: John Roberts

Andre, an effervescent soul who hails from Portugal, organized a schedule that offered four or five sessions each day of our 10-day cruise. In the mornings, it was always an 8 a.m. stretch class. This was preceded by a rotating mix of workouts like Pilates, resistance-band training, yoga or core strengthening.

Colleen and I attended seven out of 10 mornings and multiple afternoon classes, too.

The morning sessions truly offered an energy boost and proved an invigorating way to start the day. We would top off our workouts with a healthy breakfast — the buffet spread included healthy smoothie shots — and were ready to explore places like Kinderdijk, Rotterdam, Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Utrecht, Ghent, Antwerp and Amsterdam that our ship visited during the cruise.

The jet lag was kicked quickly, too, and we felt normal again after two nights.

John & Colleen reaping the work-out buzz!

How It All Began

AmaWaterways co-owner and executive vice president Kristin Karst likes to live a healthy and active lifestyle. A few years ago, she began noticing a trend: A growing number of travelers seemed to be living this type of lifestyle, too.

Karst had a hunch that offering a “Wellness Program” on an AmaWaterways river ship might be a good fit for the line’s cruisers. What started in 2017 with one ship, AmaLyra, and one Wellness Host has quickly expanded. Now in 2019, the program is on the entire AmaWaterways fleet (except the Portugal and Africa boats).

The first Wellness Host, Selina Wank, arrived at AmaLyra with a blank slate and has built the program from scratch.

Wank, 28, from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, has spent the past two cruise seasons designing the Wellness Program, hiring new fitness instructors and working out the kinks to offer the best experience for passengers.

“This year has by far exceeded our expectations,” Wank says of her second year running the wellness program on six AmaWaterways ships: AmaPrima, AmaCerto, AmaSonata, AmaDante, AmaDolce and AmaLyra.

“Of course, you have speed bumps and things that go wrong, but overall, it has been amazing. The feedback, the ratings, the things we get back are really positive. A lot of people even say they only came because we have this program,” Wank adds.

AmaWaterways' New Wellness Program

Selina Wank. * Photo: John Roberts

A Chat with Ama Fitness Guru Selina Wank

QuirkyCruise Contributor John Roberts  sat down with Wank while trying the program on AmaPrima a few months ago, and he discovered a lot about the goals of the program and the passion that drives its creator.

Quirky Cruise: What is your background with fitness and wellness and how did you end up with AmaWaterways?

Selina Wank: When I was 16, I became a professional horse rider. I rode for the German team as a junior. (She is a German citizen with permanent residence in South Africa.) I went to study at the age of 20 at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. We studied three years of human movement science, and I specialized for one year in sports science, a degree to work with high-performance athletes.

After that, I wanted to go work on the ocean just for one season and then, go back home, make money — you know, start my life. Then, I got a job offer from AmaWaterways. You apply through agents, and somehow, they got my CV, and asked me if I would like to go on the AmaLyra to try (to start) a program.

I didn’t really know what to expect. When I got to the AmaLyra (in Paris), I thought that ship was taking me to the big ship. I had no idea about river cruising and remember standing there like, “Is this it?” (Laughs.)

But in the end, it became like a trial and error. AmaWaterways operations managers from Basel came on and explained what the idea was and what they wanted to do, and they actually just gave me a free hand.

I tried hard-core classes, and a lot of guests said that this isn’t appropriate. I just adjusted from whatever feedback I got, which was perfect. Nobody told me that this is what you have to do. I developed it according to what I got from the guests. After about three months of developing it, it worked really well.

(Wank says the passenger participation rate on a good summer cruise was 15 to 30 people for the four to six classes held each day.)

QC: What is the most challenging part of setting up the Wellness Program?

Selina Wank: The hardest part is to teach people to think outside of the box. Any normal gym instructor is used to working in a gym. They have all their equipment. They might have one client. They come to me every day. I get to know you, and we can build up together. That’s the usual environment that fitness instructors work in.

Here, you get guests that come for seven days. So, you have to win them over in a day, convince them that you can give them what they want. You have to get to know them, work with them, and then they go home again. And you don’t have a gym to work with. You don’t have all the equipment to work with.

So, I get trainers who think out of the box. Andre (the Wellness Host on AmaPrima) thinks out of the box. He uses bands, he uses Pilates. He finds a way to fit four or five people into the ship’s small gym, and he makes it work. That’s very unique. It’s hard to find those kinds of people.

AmaWaterways' New Wellness Program

Andre leads a class on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

QC: What do you like to see passengers get out of the program?

Selina Wank: It’s not about us selling anything (the Wellness Program is included in the cruise fare). It’s about improving. It’s about you having a good experience. I always say that if we have one or two guests who leave the ship with some form of a changed mindset or a little something they learned about wellness, then that makes my time worthwhile.

Those guests that might not belong to a gym at home, they come to me and say they want to join the classes. So, they start something, and when they leave, they tell me “You know what? When I leave, I’m going to go home and join a gym.”

That for me is the biggest reward out of this job.

QC: What traits for a Wellness Host are most important?

Selina Wank: Of course, they have to have qualifications. There are certain certificates that they should have (to teach group classes, yoga and personal training, for example). After that, I go according to personality.

You want someone who is outgoing. The most important thing for me is warmth, like a friendly, warm person. When I see the Wellness Host, I want that feeling that I want to approach him.

They don’t have to be able to do the splits. They don’t have to be able to do more pushups than you, but you go to them because you like their personality.

AmaWaterways' New Wellness Program

Sun Deck Workout. * Photo: John Roberts

QC: How does the idea of wellness or fitness and a great travel experience fit together?

Selina Wank: For me personally, I would never go on a vacation unless there was fitness or activity involved. When we look at wellness, it’s not just the exercise classes. It’s also being inspiring and making people realize how to live better.

Our cruises are not only retired people but also working people. Part of what the program tries to do is make them realize that we all work so many hours, and we never switch off.

So, there is also wellness in the form of occupational wellness and stress (reduction). We are on vacation, and we can improve our vacation through wellness, especially learning about it. Or maybe gently being reminded: “Have you been outside today? Have you gone for a walk?” or “Come for the stretch class.”

Anyone who goes to a stretch class knows that if you go for a stretch class, afterwards your day starts better. It’s just that feeling that you are more energized.

Also, for example, a lot of the older guests walk a lot and might get stiff during their tours. You can help them to feel better to enjoy more of their vacation.

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Click the photo below to check out John’s 9-minute video about the many fitness opportunities aboard AmaWaterways river boats! 🚴🏻‍♂️🏋🏾‍♂️

AmaWaterways' New Wellness Program

John’s YT video of the AMA Waterways fitness options! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNZsb21Dl6o&feature=youtu.be

A Couple of Fitness Fanatics

Colleen and I work out five or six days a week and are always looking for ways to keep up with our workouts while on the road or at least boost our levels of activity. Until recent years, this has been a challenge on river cruises.

While we have always enjoyed getting off the ship for a run or bike ride, the true workouts have been mostly left up to our own imagination and motivation while using a small river ship fitness center (and, some ships don’t even have them).

AmaWaterways has made it easy and fun with its structured Wellness Program. On our “Dutch Waterways” cruise, we would plan our days knowing we were going to get in at least one good workout with Andre. On a couple nicer days, we were able to use the sun deck and its ample space to do a fun circuit training with resistance bands, body-weight exercises and laps around the walking track.

AmaWaterways' New Wellness Program

Circuit Training on board. * Photo: John Roberts

At first glance, I wasn’t sure that the workouts would be that challenging, but I was quickly set straight once Andre put us to work. He is able to easily tweak a workout to meet the abilities of his guests and always offers alternative movements alongside the most challenging ones.

(For full disclosure, this was not my most-active river cruise; I have done three themed river cruises there were geared to hard-core fitness, two with AmaWaterways in its collaboration with active travel company Backroads — one hiking cruise and one cycling cruise — and a biking river cruise combo with Scenic and Trek Travel. These cruises featured a subgroup of avid cyclists and hikers who went out for their own excursions, such as a 50-mile bike ride along the Danube. Those were killer. But for a great one-size-fits-all flexible program as a regular feature at no extra cost, Ama Waterways offers the best chance to be more active than you can on any other typical river cruise.)

We also took advantage of the group biking excursion in Rotterdam, as well as signing out bikes to use independently on a blissfully quiet ride in Enkhuizen and a chilly but exhilarating stretch of pedaling into Ghent on a brisk but sunny Sunday.

AmaWaterways' New Wellness Program

Biking in Rotterdam * Photo: John Roberts

The two of us refueled with hot chocolate before riding back to the ship that day. Real Belgian chocolate hot chocolate! How could we not?

Andre also led active walks in a few of the ports, and he recommended the best running routes for certain towns. We took advantage of our day in Kinderdijk to run through the misty conditions and explore the rows of canals and windmills.

Now, that we’re back home, we even have kept up the routine of a morning stretch to start our days.

AmaWaterways' New Wellness Program

John wins a fitness award on board! 👏🏼

 

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St. Hilda Sea Adventures

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

St. Hilda Sea Adventures, a Scottish firm established in 2007 and based in Oban, operates three vessels — a small, former sail training tall ship; a former working vessel for the Royal Navy; and the third and newest acquisition is a former cruising lifeboat. The trio is comfortable, quirky and affordable in the way many small ships are not. The itineraries offer a multitude of choices — length and destinations.

Imagine visiting Scotland’s legendary isles and villages and stepping ashore with no more than 6 to 11 fellow travelers and being served aboard by a crew of two or three who, being locals, know the ropes and the neighborhood.

Urquhart Castle in Loch Ness on the Caledonian Canal cruise. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

Seahorse II, acquired in 2017, is an ex-Norwegian Ferry and now carries 11 passengers.

St. Hilda, built in 1973 as a wooden-hull sail training ship, was converted in 2007 for 6 passengers.

Gemini Explorer was acquired in 2019 and is an ex-cruising lifeboat built in 1974 that can now carry a maximum of 7 passengers.

Passenger Decks

Seahorse II: three decks and no elevator. St. Hilda & Gemini Explorer: two decks and no elevator

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Seahorse II. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Passenger Profile

Mostly from Great Britain, and others from the US and Australia. Crew numbers three for Seahorse II — captain, chef and bosun. There are two crew members for St. Hilda and Gemini Explorer — captain and chef.

Price

$ – $$

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

The St. Hilda. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Included Features

All meals, fruit on demand, coffee, afternoon teas, pre-dinner aperitif, beer and wine with dinner, stocked bar after dinner, services of the crew, guides ashore. BYO also welcomed.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Lunch on the dock next to the St. Hilda in Argyll & Bute. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Itineraries

The cruise season begins in mid-April and extends past the middle of October. Itineraries span from three to 11 nights and exclusively sail the lochs, coastlines and islands of Western Scotland.

  • An 8-night circuit visits close-in isles such as the well-known Skye and others with such names as Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna, plus sailing into five lochs.
  • A 5-nighter packs in Duart Castle, home of the Macleans, the colorful village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, nature woodland walks along Loch Linnhe and Lock Aline, with a visit to an 13th-century castle and its gardens.
  • The granddaddy of all is the 11-night voyage to the Outer Hebrides, and to St. Kilda, a tiny island out in the Atlantic Ocean that was inhabited for 2000 years until evacuated in 1930. The island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a huge bird population comprising of gannets, fulmars, petrel, puffins and skua. It looks forbidding from a distance especially when approaching in such a small ship. Special permission has to be granted to land visitors.

AND, note that the three vessels are also available for full charters.

For charters, if the booking chart shows no bookings for a particular date, then the vessel is available, and the itinerary is up to you.

Adorable Puffins in the Small Isles. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Why Go?

Spectacular western Scottish landscapes, seascapes, lots of birds and land and sea animals. Some isles without regular access by ferries can only be visited by private yacht or small cruise vessel. Sail into lochs and sounds and amongst the popular and remote isles of the Outer and Inner Hebrides and along coastal Argyll. Specialties are malt whiskey distillery tours, wildlife seeking guides, and photography lessons. Revel in the camaraderie of a truly small group — passengers and crew.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

An Orca whale spotted at close range in the Inner Hebrides. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

When to Go?

Scottish weather is famously unpredictable and changes quickly in all months. With a six-month season in a northern climate, the heaviest influx of visitors will be July and August coinciding with the school holidays and the warmest months.

Specific popular destinations may be crowded then, especially picturesque villages, castles and gardens but then all cruise itineraries will also include less accessible places. Perhaps the bottom line is to consider May, June and September, early October. Expect long hours of daylight.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Lovely Plockton in the Lochalsh, Highlands of Scotland. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Cabins

Seahorse II Cabins: two doubles with a double bed or twins and en suite (private facilities); two twin cabins, two singles, and one single or double cabin at 105cm (41 inches) in width. These latter cabins have a washbasin and share two shower rooms with dressing gowns provided.

St. Hilda Cabins: a spacious double with two portholes that open, en-suite (shower, toilet, washbasin); twin berths with opening porthole, en-suite (with toilet, washbasin); twin berths (with washbasin). The twin cabins are both close to the toilet and shower rooms.

Gemini Explorer Cabins: in the forward part of the vessel there is a double en-suite, a twin en-suite and single en-suite. In the aft part of the vessel there is a double cabin that is opposite the bathroom.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

A twin cabin on St. Hilda. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Public Rooms

Seahorse II: Deck saloon for dining and a lounge for socializing, reading, and viewing Hebridean scenery and wildlife. The bridge welcomes passengers: high foredeck for wildlife spotting; boat deck aft for lounging and informally labeled “Play Deck.”

St. Hilda: Combination dining room and lounge on the deck above the cabins. Long foredeck leading up to the bow and small after deck.

Gemini Explorer: The deck saloon is where everyone dines and socialises. There is an upper viewing deck with teak benches for wildlife spotting and relaxing.

St. Hilda’s saloon. * Photo; St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Dining

All meals are either served in the combination dining saloon and lounge or in fine weather out on deck. The food is locally sourced and may be mackerel passengers catch along the way, crabs, lobster and prawns from line’s own creel, and perhaps mussels from a nearby island. Also dig into Scottish beef, lamb and pork tenderloin and locally-grown vegetables. Beer and wine with dinner.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

A buffet on the deck of the St Hilda in Loch Fyne Scotland. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Activities & Entertainment

Wildlife spotting from the boat and on shore during walks and hikes, may include golden and sea eagles, three types of whales — minkes, humpbacks and orcas — as well as dolphins, porpoises, sharks, otters and the buzzing sound of corncrakes. The new Gemini Explorer carries a two-person kayak aboard for guests’ use.

The line also offers special theme cruises from time to time featuring art tutors, photographers and wildlife specialists. The details are on St. Hilda’s website.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Bottlenose Dolphins in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Special Notes

The vessels are small and at anchor in the evening; expect some movement when at sea, a bit of getting used to for some.

Along the Same Lines

Several other operators cruise these waters and most are more expensive, and in  some cases substantially so.

Contact

St. Hilda Sea Adventures, Dunbeg, Oban, Argyll, PA37 1PX Scotland; Tel: +44(0) 7745 550988, sthildaseaadventures.co.uk.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

 

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Riviera River Cruises

Riviera River Cruises

Founded in 1984 in the UK, this large and respected travel firm charters a fleet of a dozen up-to-date riverboats (all built between 2013 and 2019) that are owned and mostly built in Switzerland. (The Swiss have been in the river shipping business for decades. Swiss yards produce lake steamers and riverboats are a parallel specialty.)

The cruising area is exclusively the waterways of Western Europe. Most itineraries last seven nights with a few being four and five nighters during the Christmas markets, and up to 14 nights when including the Rhine and Danube or most of the Danube’s navigable length down to the Black Sea.

Riviera River Cruises is based in England and sources most passengers from Britain, but if  you are a Yank or an Aussie, you are now being sought after with respective local offices. Also, single travelers are being wooed by a selection of itineraries where it’s only one person per cabin throughout the vessel. The program started in 2018, expanded for 2019 and again in 2020. The mostly one week cruises ply the  Seine, Rhone, Rhine, Danube and Douro.

Riviera River Cruises

A dramatic bend in the Moselle River. *Photo: Riviera River Cruises

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

The riverboats will be organized into classes as many are sister vessels. Riviera rates them all as “Five-Star.”

The boats are named after notable literary figures: Emily Bronte, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, Robert Burns (built 2017 or 2018) and William Wordsworth (built 2019) and all handling up to 169 passengers; George Eliot (built 2019, 132p); Lord Byron and Jane Austin (built 2013 & 2015, 140p); William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens (built 2014 & 2015, 142p); Douro Elegance and Douro Splendour (built 2017 & 2018 and 121p). In Spring 2020, MS Geoffrey Chaucer will begin operating along Danube, Main, Rhine and Dutch waterways offering all-suite accommodations for 169 passengers. They will have either French balconies and small sitting balconies. A small aft-located Bistro will be an alternative to the main restaurant.

Passenger Decks

The fleet shares four accommodation decks, with elevators (lifts) connecting them all.

Riviera River Cruises

Riverboat Jane Austen. *Photo: Riviera River Cruises

Passenger Profile

For the near future, most passengers will hail from Great Britain, but recent forays into the U.S. and Australian markets will increase the latter two’s share.

Price

$$ to $$$ Moderate to Expensive.

Itineraries

Most cruises last a week, with a few longer (Danube) and a few shorter (Douro River and Christmas markets). They cover the rivers of Europe — Rhine; Rhine and Moselle; Rhine, Main and Danube; Danube (upper) and Danube to the Black Sea; Rhone and Soane; Douro; and Dutch Waterways with some dipping south into Belgium.

Most itineraries offer pre- and post-land packages, well worth considering at the embarkation or disembarkation ports. Single travelers should have a look at the itineraries and special departures where only single occupancy cabins will be offered.

Riviera River Cruises

Pest and Parliament (extreme left) across the Danube from Buda. *Photo: Riviera River Cruises

Included Features

Shore excursions, port taxes, WiFi, bottled water, and coffee and tea making facilities are included. Drink packages (varied choices) are available at an extra charge. Tips are extra and are paid out in a single envelope.

Why Go?

So many of Europe’s greatest cities and most beautiful towns grew up along riverbanks centuries ago. As the waterways were improved to handle more traffic, it soon became possible to sail from the North Sea via the Rhine to Switzerland and the Rhine via a connecting canal to the Danube downstream to the Black Sea. The Moselle emptying into the Rhine became sought after and Portugal’s Douro joined the club much more recently with lots to see in its relatively short length.

Of course, river cruising allows unpacking once and settling in for the duration. In many cases, the boats land exactly where you want to be.

When to Go?

Cruises are offered from April into November, while the Christmas Markets on the Rhine and Danube operate in December.

Cabins

Sleeping accommodations are spread over three decks with most top-rated cabins offering private balconies, the next level down usually French (step out) balconies, while others have windows that can be lowered. The lowest rate offers fixed windows as the view is just above the waterline.

Singles are available on the lowest deck. without supplement, and they generally sell quickly. Amenities: flat-screen TV, desk, safe, hairdryer, telephone, coffee & tea makers.

Public Rooms

All vessels have a forward panoramic observation lounge and bar, with the restaurant forward on the deck below. Aft facing is a bar that on some vessels transforms into the chef’s bistro for dinner (by reservation).

Riviiera River Cruises.

Riverside town backed by vineyards. *Photo: Riviera River Cruises

Dining

The main restaurant serves all meals with the breakfast and lunch buffets and dinner, which is a served four-course meal. Tables are for mostly 2, 4, and 6 at one open sitting. The bistro seats 34.

The menu is English and continental reflecting what Brits like.  Note: Bistro is not available on the smaller Douro River vessels.

Activities & Entertainment

On board facilities and services include sauna, steam room, fitness suite, pool, library and hair salon. Tour manager and cruise director organize activities.

Special Notes

The itinerary write-ups on the river line’s website are especially well detailed.

Along the Same Lines

While river lines share many of the same characteristics, Riviera attracts more British than most others apart from the Hebridean Island Cruises’ river offerings where passengers are likely to be just about all British.

Contact

Riviera River Cruises, 1515 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield, CT 06825; 888-838-8820; www.rivierarivercruises.com. UK: New Manor, 328 Wetmore Road, Burton-on-Trent, DE14 1SP, Stafford; o1283 742 300; Australia: rivieratravel.co.au.

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