Hawaii cruise

Hawaii Cruise Expedition

By John Roberts.

Hawaii is a destination that invites and instills a spirt of playfulness, wonder and awe. And I’m convinced that a small-ship expedition is one of the best ways to experience this tropical paradise.

So this is how I spent my summer vacation. Sailing in Hawai’i with UnCruise Adventures. Carefree, barefoot, bare-chested and bold.

This voyage was especially reinvigorating, full of opportunities to cut loose.

Hawaii Cruise

John jumping into a great week! * Photo: UnCruise

We spent our days playing in the water without a care in the world as the 36-passenger Safari Explorer moved from island to island during the weeklong cruise — transporting us to a new place each day to play in our vibrant giant aquarium with sea turtles, reef sharks, octopuses and colorful fish.

Safari Explorer Hawaii

The 36-passenger Safari Explorer. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii cruise aboard the Safari Explorer

The 36-passenger Safari Explorer is ideal for cruising Hawaii. * Photo: John Roberts

For a person who loves the water and outdoors, there is no better place than Hawai’i.

It has ideal weather throughout the year and offers an infinite number of activities to please foodies, nature lovers, sporty types, and history and culture enthusiasts.

UnCruise Adventures blends all of these passions in its jam-packed itinerary, sailing from Molokai and visiting the Big Island (Hawaii), Maui and Lanai.

Hawaii cruise with UnCruise

The 36-passenger Safari Explorer 7-night cruise route. * Map: UnCruise

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Hawaii Cruise: The Staff

“I feel that the staff was amazing,” said Sharon Navre, who is from New York and was sailing on her first UnCruise voyage with husband Jeff to celebrate their 35th anniversary.

“We were kept busy, and we like that side of things. We are impressed with how they can take care of everybody, including dietary needs. I would definitely do an UnCruise again.”

The expedition line has been in Hawai’i for more than a decade, and during this time, UnCruise has developed special relationships with members of the island communities. This gives travelers an opportunity to immerse themselves in an experience more representative of authentic “Old Hawai’i” than they would find elsewhere.

Authentic Hawaii Cruise

Experiencing authentic “old” Hawaii. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: Connected to the Past

Since 2019, UnCruise now sails all year in Hawai’i, offering weeklong one-way expeditions between Molokai and the Big Island (Hawai’i). UnCruise decided it made a lot of sense to keep Safari Explorer running in Hawai’i all year to maximize the number of trips it could offer to this beloved destination.

We joined Safari Explorer for one of the last voyages of the summer — the end of UnCruise’s first season cruising Hawai’i during the summer months (the ship used to spend summers in Alaska).

Though summer is outside of whale-watching season (which is September until June), there is still plenty to do and see.

Hawaii Cruise: Molokai

Our cruise started and ended in Molokai, an island the big ships can’t get to. In fact, UnCruise Adventures is the lone cruise line making regularly scheduled visits to Molokai.

This island is just 38 miles long and 10 miles wide, and is the place most connected to Hawai’i’s ancient roots. A large proportion of the 7,000-plus residents are of native ancestry who proudly live a simple and rural lifestyle aiming to preserve their culture and history.

At the eastern tip of Molokai is the Halawa Valley, a lush place home to the island chain’s oldest continuously inhabited spot; the first Polynesian people arrived from the Marquesas, Tahitian and other neighboring islands around 650 AD. More than 1,300 years later, you can meet with Anakala Pilipo Soltario and his family who welcome visitors to their land and home.

Hawaii Cruise: Family Heritage

Anakala (or Uncle) Pilipo is the last resident of the valley who was born there, and when we arrive, we are greeted by him, his son Greg and two teenaged grandsons. The two teens lead a short hike around the property and up to the home.

In port in Molokai on a Hawaii Cruise

Uncle Pilipo and his grandsons. * Photo: John Roberts

Each member of the family wears a red kihei, a cape-like cloth that is knotted at the shoulder and draped around the torso. Uncle Pilipo and Greg then have us gather in a small grassy area to show us the traditional “welcome ceremony,” demonstrating how visitors from one village would seek permission to enter another village, perhaps to discuss trade.

Greg stands at the head of our group and blows into a conch (pu), awaiting a return call from his father. We may approach only when Uncle Pilipo returns the sound on the pu.

We then all line up for a “Hawai’ian handshake,” the traditional greeting called honi. This intimate custom requires the participants to press together their foreheads and noses while looking into each other’s eyes and inhaling deeply, sharing a breath.

the traditional "honi" on a Hawaii cruise

The traditional “Hawai’ian handshake,” a greeting called honi. * Photo: Colleen McDaniel

The entire group did it with all of our hosts and one another before moving to a set of picnic tables to hear Greg and Anakala Pilipo speak passionately about the customs and culture they are seeking to preserve. When Hawai’i became a U.S. state in 1959, the process of “Westernization” — which had begun decades earlier after the U.S. annexed the islands — became accelerated.

During this culture talk, we learn the traditional term for a Hawai’ian feast is pa’ina and not luau, which is actually a leaf of the sacred taro plant. Greg gathers a large board and a set of stone tools he uses to pound fresh poi from taro roots. These are family implements that have lasted six generations and are meticulously cared for. He pounds the poi and tells us how the food is a staple of the native Hawai’ian diet. He mixes a bit of salted fish into the sticky lump of poi, and we all eagerly grab a serving from the mound, many getting seconds as the fresh delicacy is passed around on a large taro leaf.

Making poi on an Hawaiian cruise

Greg uses stone tools to pound fresh poi from taro roots. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: Natural Disasters

Anakala Pilipo recounts the days of his youth and the small schoolhouse he attended that once sat on the property — a cornerstone still visible under a tall palm tree. There were thousands of residents in Halawa Valley up until the late 1950s. A massive tsunami flooded the valley in 1946, when Anakala Solatorio was six years old. He recalls seeing a wall of water approaching as his family joined villagers retreating higher into the hills to avoid devastating flooding that killed more 100 people.

After another tsunami in 1957 wiped out the taro fields, most residents left the valley, leaving few remaining families.

Greg gives the culture talks and also leads hikes to a majestic waterfall for visitors (heavy rains left the trails unsafe for hiking during our time in the valley). He says preserving this lifestyle is his passion. The role his father had long held has been passed to him.

“Our culture is sacred, not secret,” Greg says. “When we don’t share our culture, will be the moment our culture dies.”

Hawaiian cruise

Uncle Pilipo and his family greeting UnCruise passengers. * Photo: John Roberts

Whether you start or end your trip at Molokai, you should consider spending an extra day or two there to further explore places like the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, a former leper colony — or just relax in the soothing serenity.

The lone resort on the island is Hotel Molokai, a lovely spot right on the waterfront.

This also serves as the hospitality site for UnCruise Adventures’ passengers beginning or ending their voyages in Molokai.

Below is a video tour of Hotel Molokai.

Hawaii Cruise: Quirky Ship Built for Island Adventures

Safari Explorer is a rugged yacht that carries up to 36 passengers in 18 staterooms spread over the ship’s three decks. There are two Commodore Suites and three Admiral cabins that offer between 200 and 275 square feet as well as amenities like a bathtub and hot tubs. So, you get a bit more space than the other accommodations, which all feature simple layouts, small marine-style bathrooms (with the toilet and shower in the same little space), comfy beds, and TVs with DVD players (DVD library in the lounge).

We stayed in a standard cabin, and our room was a tight fit for couples. The layout meant we had to take turns getting into the bed, which is fit into a tight corner area. There is no wi-fi or cable TV. But for this trip, you only really need a place to store your clothes and lay your head in comfort at night, and the cabins fit the bill just fine.

Safari Explorer cabin

John’s cabin. * Photo: John Roberts

The captain welcomes passengers onto the open bridge to see how the navigation happens or to get a good look at the wildlife at play in the waters.

Hawaii Cruise with Captain Tyler

Captain Tyler at the wheel. * Photo: John Roberts

Open bridge on Safari Explorer

The bridge is open for passengers to visit. * Photo: John Roberts

The top sun deck is a wide-open space that we used for a morning stretch and workout with a complement of free weights and yoga mats available. (Note: UnCruise did away with its wellness program, so no yoga or stretch classes led by staff.)

Hawaii cruise top deck

Morning stretches on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

Safari explorer gym weights

Some work-out equipment is available. * Photo: Colleen McDaniel

Safari Explorer’s main lounge is the heartbeat of life onboard, with a bar area and adjacent dining room serving as the prime gathering spots for cold drinks, hearty meals, snacks and lively conversation.

Safari Explorer bar

Drinks are included! * Photo: John Roberts

Two expedition guides (Lauren and Sophy) conducted enrichment talks in this space, discussing marine life, with a focus on turtles, fish and reef systems. There is a small library and game room with a piano and guitar for any musically inclined passengers.

main lounge of Safari Explorer

The main lounge is the ship’s hub. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: Food Department

While the ship offers an efficient way to travel around the islands in comfort, the special formula that makes the UnCruise Adventures experience in Hawai’i so memorable is the activities, crew and food.

For a ship with such a small kitchen, it is amazing the array of fantastic locally-sourced fresh food that we were treated to.

Everyone on the ship during our sailing frequently rotated to create new groups at the tables for six, enjoying plated meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Safari Explorer's dining room

Safari Explorer’s dining room. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

We loved that the portions were moderately sized, so there was very little waste. Many of the offerings were so tempting that we often ordered half portions of two selections (always one meat, one fish and one vegetarian).

Dinner on an Hawaii cruise

Yummy pork belly. * Photo: John Roberts

Check out some of the specialties that the kitchen created:

Thai basil red snapper, chicken curry, Hungarian mushroom soup with paprika oil, Kona coffee-rubbed beef tenderloin, pork belly, corn fritters, seared scallops, marinated rack of lamb, ahi tuna, chickpea tarts and venison loco moco.

Desserts included meringue fruits pavlova (below), ginger lemongrass ice cream and a daily afternoon assortment of fresh-baked cookies.

(I drooled just typing that paragraph.)

Dessert on the Safari Explorer

Dessert is served! * Photo: John Roberts

Check out John’s video tour of the ship below!

Hawaii Cruise: Four Islands & Endless Fun

Aside from Molokai, UnCruise Safari Explorer expeditions in Hawai’i feature stops at three other islands —  Maui, Lanai and the Big Island.

Colleen and I sailed with 18 other adventure-oriented travelers. Onboard was a foursome of friends from Seattle and a pair of best buds from San Fran, with all of these youngsters in their 30s or younger. There was a family of four from California with two college-age kids; couples from Virginia, New York and Florida; and a mom and daughter from Australia.

Hawaii cruise on Safari Explorer

Passengers bonded quickly on the intimate 36-passenger Safari Explorer. * Photo: John Roberts

The group quickly grew tight over the course of the week as we jumped into our exploration.

After departing Molokai, the next morning offered the first of many water activities. We snorkeled in secluded Honolua Bay and spotted green sea turtles as well as an array of tropical fish. In summer, the activities are focused on getting into the water for Zodiac rides, paddling, swimming and snorkeling.

kayaking on an Hawaii cruise

Kayaking is a big focus of UnCruise in Hawaii. * Photo: John Roberts

snorkeling on an Hawaii cruise

Snorkeling fun! * Photo: John Roberts

(In other parts of the year, these sailings will utilize more time for wonderful whale-watching outings.)

The sun was out every day, and the hot temps made the time in the water all the more inviting. So, we all took advantage.

Hawaii cruise swimming

John & Colleen enjoying the water! * Photo: John Roberts

Our expedition leader Lauren and expedition guide Sophy briefed us each night after dinner about the next day’s plans.

Hawaii cruise crew

Lauren and Sophy. * Photo: John Roberts

An UnCruise Adventures itinerary lays out a rough schedule for where the ship will sail, but is always considered an outline and a plan from which we could deviate because of weather or special wildlife activity that the team learns about and is eager to have us experience.

In fact, we depart the Big Island a day early to avoid rough weather that would make it tougher to cross the Alenuihaha Channel and back to Maui.

During the week, we mix time on the ship with time ashore. We snorkel at a green sea turtle “cleaning station” off the coast of Maui (the Olowalu “turtle reef”) and see the turtles as well as numerous white tip reef sharks, a mating pair of octopuses and harlequin shrimp.

green sea turtle on a Hawaii cruise

A big green sea turtle seen on a snorkeling excursion. * Photo: John Roberts

John snorkeling in Hawaii

John snorkeling.

Hawaii cruise snorkeling

Colleen is holding a pin cushion sea star for a moment. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: Lanai

At anchor just off Lanai, we set out in kayaks at sunrise and get back in time for breakfast and a late-morning snorkel. After lunch, we got the chance to head ashore to explore historic Lanai City and take a hike to Sweetheart Rock.

Lanai is home to just 3,000 people, one of the pristine and isolated places that you visit on this expedition — far away from the crowds, making the overall experience that much more blissful as you can enjoy the natural beauty in its raw form.

Sailing from Lanai, we encounter dolphins eager to swim on the bow of the Safari Explorer. Multiple pods join through the rest of the afternoon as we make our way toward Kona on the Big Island.

I’m pretty sure that we saw dolphins nearly every day.

dolphins on a Hawaii cruise

Seeing dolphins up close! * Photo: John Roberts

Kona is a bigger city, bustling with tourists and resorts along its pretty beaches. Colleen and I go for a run, managing just a couple miles in the heat before we settle on a gentle stroll back to town, taking some pics along the way. We have a set time to join fellow cruisers Chris, Kevin and Garad to try our hands at paddling the traditional wooden canoe, called a wa’a.

Hawaii cruise wooden canoe

Tips for paddling the traditional wooden canoe, called a wa’a. * Photo: John Roberts

We have fun paddling in sync around the coastal waters and into the lagoon off Kona, taking some time to rest our arms and jump into the warm waters for a swim as well. The wa’a is an important boat in Hawai’ian culture. Long ago, these single- and double-hulled canoes with an outrigger were the sole means of transport around the islands. They are carved by hand from a tree, and the process of building one is quite sacred.

Today, Hawai’ians young and old use them for exercise and recreation and for racing competitions.

Hawaii cruise canoe

Paddling in sync around the coastal waters off Kona. * Photo: John Roberts

Our time at the Big Island included a diverse array of activities, indeed. That evening we went for a night snorkel in the hopes of seeing giant manta rays. We came up empty (frowny face) but were enthralled by the spooky illuminated waters filled with plankton and thousands of feeding fish. Some in our group even saw a rare Hawai’ian monk seal darting through the gauzy depths.

The next morning, we set out for a sunrise kayak along black lava cliff sides until we reached the “Blue Lagoon,” an area where black crabs crawled on the lava formations and turtles enjoying the calm waters and quiet shoreline where they rest and mate.

lava formations on an Hawaii cruise

Cool lava formations. * Photo: John Roberts

turtles in Hawaii

Turtle time. * Photo: John Roberts

Those who chose a skiff tour instead of kayaking were met by a curious pod of dolphins for an up-close interaction.

Dolphins on a Hawaii cruise

Dolphins spotted from a skiff! * Photo: John Roberts

In the afternoon, it was more snorkeling and a skiff ride along the shore where we witnessed thrashing waves shoot through lava tubes in a stunning display of the ocean’s force.

lava tubes in Hawaii

Lava tubes. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: A Bit of Chop

With a storm approaching, Capt. Tyler Manning guided the ship back to Maui, navigating some fairly choppy waters. Colleen and I enjoy being rocked to sleep, while many other passengers were a bit worried about how they might handle rougher seas.

We all emerged the next morning, most of us looking quite chipper despite being tossed around a bit. Back in calm waters off the coast of Maui, we took advantage of the chance to snorkel, swim and jump into the water off the back marina and the second-deck platform, which offers an exhilarating 20-foot drop.

Safari Explorer in Hawaii

Weeee! * Photo: John Roberts

We were anchored off Lahaina Town, and most of us took the opportunity to go into town for some beach time and a refreshing shave ice.

Hawaii cruise snacks

Hawaiian shave ices anyone? * Photo: John Roberts

Safari Explorer stayed at anchor well into the night, and the crew put on a wonderful top-deck cocktail hour and dance party. It was Day 6 of our cruise, and by now, we all were getting along like a big festive family.

Jessica, our bartender mixed cocktails. Jose, our hotel manager and the rest of the crew handed out cold beers, wines and tapas. And most of us danced around the deck while the beautiful sun set.

Hawaii cruise aboard Safari Explorer

Life is good for John and Colleen. * Photo: John Roberts

We didn’t want the cruise to end. That always happens on these small ships, especially when you travel with people who love to stay active and share a passion for adventure.

Here’s John’s video recap of his UnCruise Adventures expedition in Hawai’i.

Hawaii cruise crew

Jose & Jessica. * Photo: John Roberts

Alas, the last day brought as back to Molokai to explore more. That night, we had a farewell pa’ina feast and music and storytelling from a hula master at the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center. A duo played ukulele and guitar music while singing folkloric songs. A hula dancer swayed to the tunes. We dined on pulled pork, seafood and pickled veggies.

Our souls were filled with the true aloha spirit of Hawai’i.

Hawaii sunset

Until next time …. * Photo: John Roberts

For booking info, contact UnCruise Adventures.

The 7-night Hawaii cruises start at $5,200 per person and include all excursions and alcoholic drinks.

SPECIAL OFFER FROM UNCRUISE: In celebration of its first year of year-round Hawaii sailings, save $700 per couple on weeklong Hawaii cruises departing between March 7 – September 5, 2020.  Mention code 700HI20.

Enjoy John’s video recap of his UnCruise Adventures expedition in Hawai’i.

quirkycruise bird



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Scuba Diving in St. Lucia

Caribbean Scuba Diving + Island Windjammers Cruise.

By Elysa Leonard.

Excited and ready for an adventure, I left my land-locked home in the suburbs of Washington DC., and flew, via Charlotte, North Carolina, to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. It was an early morning with a full day of travel ahead, and I was chock full of adrenaline and happy, sun-shiny thoughts.

I had briefly visited St. Lucia on a honeymoon cruise more than 20 years ago and remember the striking green Pitons. This time would be different; I was traveling solo to do an Island Windjammers cruise, but pre-cruise I would spend a few days in St Lucia focused on scuba diving, a hobby I have enjoyed for more than two decades.

Click here to read Elysa’s story about her amazing Island Windjammers cruise.

Scuba diving in St. Lucia

Elysa with a fellow passenger, Joanne Hutchinson, and Fleet Captain Nervo Cortez, onboard Island Windjammers Tall Ship Vela.

Confessions of a Scuba Dive Junkie

I am an avid scuba diver, but it had been several years since I had been scuba diving in the “real” ocean. I am a scientific diver and part of an all-volunteer dive team at the National Aquarium – Baltimore. This position keeps my feet wet in between dive trips.

Dive 1: In the “Real” Ocean

For my three days at the Marigot Beach Club & Dive Resort in St Lucia, I’d be going out diving with Andre, the owner of “Dive Fair Helen.” He was an expert dive guide, full of knowledge about the coral, fish, and shipwrecks of St. Lucia. He took us to some of the best dive sites on the south side of the island right below the towering green Pitons. The contrast of colors from the green of the Pitons to the turquoise blue sea took my breath away.

St. Lucia’s Pitons. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Luckily the coral of St. Lucia has not been the victim of bleaching. The corals were diverse, with deep mustard yellow to iridescent purple sponges, fern, elkhorn, and many brain corals.

It was a healthy, thriving and growing coral reef. There were plenty of moments to breath deep and admire the beauty of the Caribbean Sea. Ahhhhhh, My happy place.

It’s hard to miss the purple sponge coral in St. Lucia’s waters. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

The minute I saw St. Lucia’s bounty of fish, I wanted to shout through my regulator, “hello my friends! I am back for a visit!”

The gang from my Aquarium dives was all there, will some added species I had nearly forgotten. The number of eels in St. Lucia was remarkable. We saw at least two on every dive and sometimes they were free swimming instead of peeking out of a crevice.

Boat diving is usually a two-tank experience (as compared to one-tank dives from shore). The first dive is longer and deeper, the second shorter and more shallow. After the first dive, we surfaced, got back on the boat, change empty tanks for full ones and shared stories of our dive.

My dive gear. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Dive 2: Like Riding a Bicycle

Dive two was similar to the first one but in the shallows. We saw a large black spotted moray eel. It was larger than any of that type of moray I have seen before and a stunning contrast against the colorful coral backdrop.

Scuba Diving in St Lucia

Black-Spotted Moray Eel. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

There were trumpet fish hunting for a meal and princess parrotfish crunching on corals. You could actually hear the crunching. The visibility was excellent, and it was a pleasure to see such a vibrant, healthy reef. Once we surfaced and removed our gear, we had a relaxing 45-minute ride back to Marigot Bay.

Dive 3: A Gift

The next day, once again, the weather was perfect for diving — the sea was flat and calm with no wind, but only three divers had signed up to dive. Andre went out of his way to make this second day of diving happen for me and I will be forever grateful.

Because of the small numbers, Andre was our captain, driving us to the site and then he donned a wetsuit and gave us an exceptional tour as our underwater guide.

He took us to the shipwreck of the Lesleen M, which was purposely sunk to create an extension of the coral reef. In the 33 years that this ship has been beneath the sea, it has developed into its own outcropping of thriving coral reef. The ship is now completely encrusted with healthy hard and soft corals of all shapes and sizes. Check out the whitespotted filefish I happened upon; they’re not usually so friendly!

And the fish? Oh, how they love this shipwreck! There were plenty of places to hide in the nooks and crannies and it was a perfect environment for so many species. Fish, fish everywhere!

There is something magical about a shipwreck, you can feel the energy there, and I think the fish feel it too.

I hope to go back and dive that wreck again. There was so much more to explore!

Our second dive on this trip was just as good as the first. As Andre entered the water, he seemed to be part fish. We visited another pristine reef with many baby fish, all supporting each other’s existence in such a delicate ecosystem.

More Diving from the Vela

The next day I would board Island Windjammer’s tall ship Vela for a week-long sailing adventure I absolutely fell in love with (read that article HERE). I quickly learned that with a little ingenuity, you could fit in diving as well as tons of snorkeling on a tall ship cruise like this one.

Jess, our operations director, arranged a two-tank morning dive for me and another passenger when we arrived in Iles des Saintes. The dive operation was called, “La Dive Bouteille – Plongées des Saintes” and was run by a sweet French couple — Phillipe and Laurence.

The small-scale operations at La Dive Bouteille. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

We stumbled a bit communicating above the water since we didn’t speak any French and the diving couple did not speak much English. However, once below the water, we all spoke the common language of “fish” which ended the language barrier.

Our dive guides, Phillipe and Laurence were once beekeepers in France. They relocated to Iles des Saintes and started a dive business. You could tell they loved diving and enjoyed life in this small fishing village. I thought many times that day about relocating to this beautiful little village myself, to dive and learn French. It is a nice dream that I haven’t forgotten, maybe someday?

Scuba Diving in St. Lucia

The tiny village vibe of La Dive Bouteille. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Channeling Jacques Cousteau

They were both very experienced divers who knew right where to take us and seemed to be part mermaid-merman. Their shop was pristine and the dive boat small but efficient. An added bonus was that the dive sites were a quick 10-minute trip from their shop. Philippe had us enter the water from a backward roll off the side of the boat.

This has always been my most favorite way to enter the water and seems like something from a Jacques Cousteau film. Philippe showed us his favorite places, the corals were healthy with no evidence of the bleaching, it was a thriving beautiful reef. I felt lucky as he let this dive stretch more than an hour.

Scuba Diving in St. Lucia

Idyllic Iles des Saintes. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

After we had used up most of our air, we surfaced and climbed the ladder onto the boat. The language barrier again became challenging, but we traded fish stories and with the help of an English/French fish guide. Laurence served us a delicious snack of homemade madeleine cakes and hot tea. It was the perfect interlude before she took us for our second adventure.

Laurence took us to see the garden of eels. It was a sandy patch that at first looked as if it was covered with seagrasses, but as we got closer, we realized these were not pieces of seagrass but many small eels swaying in the current.

They looked like they were in a trance moving slowly back and forth. It was mesmerizing to watch. Along the edge of the field of eels were several species of  razorfish, that hovered over their holes and darted inside to safety as they saw our shadows approach.

As we passed the field of eels and razorfish, we were pleasantly surprised to see a pair of balloon fish, with their piercing blue-green eyes, a large porcupine puffer fish, and a smooth trunkfish that were all searching for a meal. On our way back to the boat, we found more giant lobsters hiding under the rocks and traveled through a shallow section of reef with many baby fish.

It was a perfect morning, which would be followed by even more perfect days and evenings in the beautiful French West Indies.

Snorkeling with New Friends

Not only do I like to dive, but I also enjoy snorkeling.

With my experience as a reef survey diver and my many years as an aquarium diver, I can identify more than 100 species of tropical fish and have learned much about fish behavior.

On this trip, the word got out that I knew my fish and I led a band of snorkelers on a few fun adventures. Snorkeling makes “teaching fish” a bit easier since you can surface often and explain what you are looking at.

One afternoon we arrived at a small village in southwest Martinique called Les Anses D’Arlet. There were so many people and children splashing, swimming and even standing on the rocks, that it didn’t look like a good beach for snorkeling. However, we were told it was one of the best snorkeling locations, so of course, you never know, I had to give it a go.

I put my masked-face in the water and almost shrieked in delight. I could not believe the number of different species. They were everywhere and in large numbers. It was better than some of my best dives when it came to seeing and identifying fish. I was so happy for my fellow snorkelers, most of whom, have never been diving, and they were seeing the best of the best!

We saw trumpetfish, even some baby ones, and a school of balloon fish. On a normal dive, you would be lucky to see two since they are often in pairs, but we saw a school of them! Large schools of hundreds of tiny fry moved through the water as if they were all part of one fish.

There were several types of grunts, porcupine pufferfish, eels, queen triggerfish, parrotfish, schools of blue-headed wrasse, and even an octopus!

It was the best snorkeling I have ever experienced and from the surface, you would never have expected that.

Scuba Diving in the French West Indies

A sand diver fish off the coast of St. Lucia. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

One More for the Road

Friday was our very last day on Vela and we were back in St. Lucia. We were anchored in Rodney Bay and went ashore with the intention of snorkeling on the beach at Pigeon Bay National Trust. As we entered the Park, I noticed that there was a dive operator doing shore dives from the beach. I decided to see if it was possible to sneak in one last dive.

I approached the dive master, a tall, fit St. Lucian man who was twice my size. I didn’t have any of my equipment with me since this was not the original plan. I borrowed a wetsuit, and all the gear, but since we were planning to snorkel I had my mask.

As we started to descend and swim off, I quickly realized that I was going to have trouble keeping up. One kick of his fins was about four for me. The fins didn’t fit me properly and I felt a burning pain on the top of my feet, but I kept going. I wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of my last dive.

We saw all the usual suspects and I couldn’t help thinking that I should be saying goodbye to all of my fishy friends. Porcupine puffers, balloon fish and three, yes three different species of eels in one dive, green, white spotted and brown morays. There were pudding wives, creole fish, parrotfish, black durgons, ocean triggerfish and some pipefish at the surface.

It was a wonderful way to end my trip until I got out of the water, took off my fins and saw the tops of my feet. Blisters, that had turned into bleeding open sores on both of my feet. Ouch, but luckily I could wear flip flops for the trip home. They have since healed and left only a few small scars.

Just one of the many memories, and ones that will always remind me of that last-minute decision to dive in St. Lucia. It was worth the scars and I would do it again, in a heartbeat!

Scuba Diving in St Lucia

I’ll be back. * Photo: Elysa Leonard

Top 5 Takeaways for Diving in St. Lucia

  1. St. Lucia is a great location for a dive trip! Fantastic diving, lots of fish, healthy reef.
  2. If you schedule a few extra days of diving, an Island Windjammer cruise is a great option for divers.
  3. If is okay if you don’t speak French because everyone can learn to speak Fish!
  4. Don’t judge a book by its cover, especially when selecting snorkel locations! Trust your cruise manager.
  5. When diving, make sure that your fins fit properly!

quirkycruise bird



I would like to dedicate this article in memory of Phillipe Borac who recently passed away and to Laurence who is carrying on without him. I feel lucky and privileged to have shared a fabulous day with both of you. It is a day and a memory I will never forget. You shared a small window into your special world, showing me some of some very special places not many get to see and I want to thank you for that. Laurence, I hope to be back and diving with you again soon. Phillipe may you rest in peace, you have given so much to so many. Thank you.

Scuba Diving in St. Lucia

RIP Philippe

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Celebrity Cruises Galapagos

If you’ve cruised on the biggies, you’ll feel right at home on these sporty miniature versions.

Many feel at ease knowing that the well-established Celebrity Cruises, a line that otherwise keeps busy with its fleet of giant 2,000 to 3,000-passenger mega ships, is behind the operation. Celebrity launched the 100-passenger, 296-foot CELEBRITY XPEDITION back in 2004, a groundbreaking move at the time for a mainstream cruise line, to sail year-round in the Galapagos Islands. The-mini cruise ship, or mega-yacht as the company refers to it, carries 5 zodiac landing craft on board for rides to remote beaches, bays and snorkeling sites, for up-close encounters with sea lions, turtles, schools of fish, and marine birds, namely the well-known frigates and blue-footed boobies.

The 48-passenger M/V ECLIPSE and the 16-passenger catamaran M/C ATHALA II  both of which started year-round cruises in March 2017 were replaced in mid-2019 by the brand new 100-passenger ship, the CELEBRITY FLORA, for the Galapagos.

RELATED: Celebrity’s Custom-Built Galapagos Ship, Celebrity Flora … by Anne Kalosh.

Seeing fur seals up close is business as usual. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Seeing fur seals up close is business as usual. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

CELEBRITY XPEDITION (built 2001, 100 passengers); CELEBRITY FLORA (b. 2019, 100 p.). The crew is mostly Ecuadoran.

RELATED: Galapagos Islands Cruise Overview

Celebrity Expeditions

CELEBRITY FLORA entered service in mid-2019. * Photo: Celebrity Expeditions

Passenger Profile

Wildlife-loving, eco-minded couples and families from North America mostly (click HERE for a kid’s review), with a sprinkling of passengers from the UK and Europe, who have always dreamed of going to the Galapagos Islands. Some have cruised on parent company Celebrity’s mega ships.

Passenger Decks

XPEDITION, 4 decks and an elevator connects 4 of them; CELEBRITY FLORA, 6 decks and elevator between all but highest deck.


$$ – $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Included Features

On packages of 10 nights or more, guided shore excursions, tips, wine, spirits and all drinks throughout cruise, plus round-trip airfare between Quito and Baltra, 2 hotels nights before and 1 after in Quito (on mainland) with transfer and meals. Snorkeling gear and wetsuits are always included.

Guided excursions via zodiac boats take passengers close up to scenery and wildlife. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Guided excursions via zodiac boats take passengers close up to scenery and wildlife. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises


  • 7-, 10-, 11-, 13- and 15-night cruise packages round-trip from the island of Baltra, where the islands’ main airport is. You also add on over-land tours to Peru’s Machu Picchu.
  • Highlights include Kicker Rock, stunning stacks of towering volcanic rock formations that are home to many species of nesting birds including blue-footed boobies; the beaches of Cerro Brujo for close encounters with sea lions; and deep sea snorkeling off the coast of Isla Isabela to gaze on sea turtles, penguins, and marine iguanas feeding on underwater algae.
  • The addition of the two new ships greatly expanded Celebrity’s itinerary options in the Galapagos, with routes now stopping at the white sand beaches of Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island, the submerged caldera at Darwin Bay on Genovesa Island, and the mango estuary of Black Turtle Cove on Santa Cruz Island. Some visit the volcanic Chinese Hat Islet and Wall of Tears, a wall built by prisoners at a penal colony on Isabela Island in the 1940s and 50s.
Getting this close to wildlife is a thrill. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Getting this close to wildlife is a thrill. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

When to Go?

The ships cruise in the Galapagos Islands year-round; because of school holidays, the summer months and December/January are considered the peak season price-wise.

December though June is the rainy season with the warmest water and air temps or the year; there is sun and daily rain showers (late April and May are pretty ideal, as there’s less rain, flowers are blooming and sea lion pups are being born).

You’ll rarely get rain July through December, though it tends to be cloudy and seas can be rougher, however these months tend to be better for bird watching.


On all three, all cabins are outside with balconies, windows and/or portholes. XPEDITION has 13 suites and all cabins have a sitting area, desk, TV, hairdryers, safe and bathrobes. FLORA is an all-suite ship, and the standard suite, the Sky Suite, will measure 33 square feet and have an Infinite Veranda. The doors to the Infinite Veranda can slide to the side to make the veranda a seamless part of the room. When the doors are closed, creating a separate veranda area, the top of a floor-to-ceiling outside window can be lowered to the open air. FLORA also has a few bigger, posher suites.

The top-of-the-line pair of corner Penthouse Suites, 1,288 square feet/120 square meters each, feature big verandas (321 square feet/30 square meters) and bathrooms (196 square feet/18 square meters) with floor-to-ceiling windows. The ship has stay in place without using an anchor that might damage the ocean floor and stabilizers that operate effectively at 0-speed. Seawater is processed to fresh for all needs.

One of 12 suites on board XPEDITION. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Public Rooms

Ships have two dining areas and a windowed lounge for daily lectures by the onboard naturalists. Each has a bar, with XPEDITION also boasting a small dance floor and a piano too. XPEDITION’s outdoor Blue Finch bar on the Promenade is the place for drinks with great views of islands. As the largest of the trio, XPEDITION offers the most amenities, with a small gym, co-ed sauna, massage room and a small boutique. All three have a sun deck with padded chaise lounges for sunbathing and relaxing, and each has a hot tub.

The CELEBRITY FLORA will have Darwin’s Cove, a place where passengers can chat with the naturalists who lead tours and give informative talks. There will be one naturalist guide for every dozen passengers. Briefings will be delivered in FLORA’s Discovery Lounge, where there’s a full bar, stage for entertainment and comfy seating. The lounge’s walls are nearly all glass, making another great place to take in the views. FLORA has plenty of open-air spaces on the top deck for lounging and observing wildlife and a stargazing platform. Four rental cabanas are available for privacy by day or sleeping under the stars.


Each boat has two relatively informal dining venues, one indoor and one al fresco, with open-seating tables of six and eight. Continental cuisine incorporates locally caught fish and fresh vegetables and fruits from the region, plus basics like roast chicken, ribs and pastas. No jackets or formal dressing are required. On XPEDITION, the al fresco Beagle Grill at the stern of Deck 6 is a casual place serving burgers, hot dogs, pizza, salads and the like, and sometimes there’s a grilled seafood fest at lunchtime. Usually once per cruise there’s a lovely barbecue on deck under the stars.

On FLORA, besides the Seaside Restaurant, open for all meals, the ship will have a casual alternative, the Ocean Grill, with panoramic views and the opportunity to dine under the stars.

Grilled seafood and corn on the cob for lunch is a delicious affair. on board XPEDITION, * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

The islands themselves and the wildlife you’ll encounter are the big stars with typically two excursions per day. When on board, then, most passengers are eager to relax and watch the scenery from the decks, look through the reference books in the small libraries or listen to the daily talks by the naturalists. You can also fit in a gym workout on XPEDITION. A marina in CELEBRITY FLORA’s stern will make it easy to step into Zodiacs for the frequent nature tours — hiking, swimming and snorkeling — that characterize a Galápagos cruise. A staircase leads from the marina to the Sunset Lounge, an outdoor space with a plunge pool.

Evenings, it’s drinks with friends at the bar and on most cruises, local entertainers come on board for a few hours to do a traditional Ecuadorian music, singing and dance performance. Another highlight is a slideshow of passengers’ encounters with wildlife during the course of the cruise.

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.


Celebrity Cruises, 1050 Caribbean Way, Miami, FL 33132; 888-751-7804.



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Island Windjammers

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QuirkyCruise ReviewQuirkyCruise Review of Island Windjammers

Remember Windjammer Barefoot Cruises? Enormously popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s for its ultra-casual, rum-fueled Caribbean sailing adventures, the line folded in 2008, leaving thousands of loyal passengers sad and landlocked. Enter Island Windjammers. Launched in 2009 by and for Windjammer Barefoot regulars when they got together to buy the 101-foot brigantine schooner DIAMANT, the line is a more mature version of its barefoot predecessor, operating truly intimate sailing adventures that tootle around the quieter corners of the Caribbean, far from the megaship mega-crowds.

Sure, there’s still plenty of rum punch and Red Stripes consumed, but the volume of the party has been turned way down to just the perfect level. (Island Windjammers is not to be confused with Sail Windjammer, a one-ship line that through 2020 is operating the 72-pax Mandalay, formerly of the Windjammer Barefoot Cruises fleet.)

Island Windjammers

Diamant in all her glory. * Photo: Island Windjammers

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Ship, Year Delivered & Passenger Count

DIAMANT (built 1978; refurbished 2016; 10 passengers), VELA (b. 1988; refurbished 2015; 26 p), and SAGITTA (b. 1960; 24 p — currently out of service).

Island Windjammers Passenger Profile

Young-at-heart American couples, singles and groups of friends 45+ who crave a carefree Caribbean getaway with zero pretension. Summers and holiday weeks see occasional families with children; though the minimum age is 8 and it’s probably better for kids to be at least 10 or 12+.

Passenger Decks

2 VELA & DIAMANT; 3 SAGITTA — all no elevators.


$ Moderate

Included Features

Meals, wine, beer, rum punch, soft drinks and snorkeling gear are included in the fares; shore excursions are extra, as are optional tips. You’re also invited to bring along your own booze and the ships provide the mixers (there is no cash bar on board).

The fleet calls on great little places like Tobago Cays. * Photo: Island Windjammers

The fleet calls on great little places like Tobago Cays. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Island Windjammers Itineraries
  • 6- and 12-night Leeward Island cruises round-trip from St Martin or St. Lucia, calling on some combination of Anguilla, Antigua, Dominica (Portsmouth & Roseau), Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, Martinique, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Barths, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and Tintamarre
  • 6-, 9- and 12-night Windward Island cruises round-trip from Grenada or St. Lucia, calling on some combination of Bequia, Canouan, Carriacou (Tyrell Bay & Hillsborough), Grenada, Mayreau, Mustique, Petit St. Vincent, Sandy Island, St. Lucia, St Vincent, Tobago Cays, Union Island and Young Island
  • 6- and 12-night British Virgin Islands (BVIs) & Leeward Island cruises round-trip from St. Martin or Tortola, visiting some combination of Anguilla, Jost Van Dyke, Nevis, Norman Island, Salt Island, St. Barths, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, Tortola or Virgin Gorda
  • 6-night French West Indies cruises round-trip out of St. Lucia, visiting some combo of Dominica (Portsmouth & Roseau), Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, Martinique and St. Lucia
Why Go?

To let your hair down, work on your tan and hang out with like-minded others who operate on island time.

When to Go?

All year around, though remember hurricane season in the Caribbean is officially June through November.

Island Windjammers Cabins

Small as you’d expect on sailing ships, but charming, wood-paneled and the perfect cozy nests to catch up your beauty rest; otherwise, life is lived up on deck or on shore. All cabins have 110v outlets, blow dryers, shampoo/soap, portholes (except for one cabin on VELA and two on SAGITTA), and private bathrooms with separate shower stall (exceptions: the two Cadet Cabins on VELA each has an all-in-one bathroom and SAGITTA’s and VELA’s two Solo Cabins share one bathroom).

A cozy and very nautical Diamant cabin. * Photo: Island Windjammers

A cozy and very nautical Diamant cabin. * Photo: Island Windjammers

VELA’s cabins include: two tiny Cadet Cabins with raised small double beds (for one or two people) each with a private all-in-one bathroom (no separate shower stall); two Solo Cabins, one with a porthole and one without, share one bathroom with a separate shower stall (each cabin can accommodate one or two people); two Standard Cabins are a bit larger with a double lower bed and a single bunk above; six Deluxe Cabins have a larger double bed with single bunk above; the pair of Compass Cabins that are at the aft of the ship has a queen size bed (and no upper bunk); the one and only Topsail Cabin has a queen bed and larger bathroom; and finally the relatively spacious Owner’s Suite has a king size bed, mini-fridges, and a large bathroom — both cabin and bathroom have portholes.

Island Windjammers

Vela’s Owner’s Suite, not too shabby! * Photo: Island Windjammers

After her overhaul in fall 2016, DIAMANT now sports four cabins with double beds below and single bunk above, and with full bathrooms with separate showers; and a fifth cabin is a suite with a queen bed, sitting area and a full bathroom.

Each day is more gorgeous than the last. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Each day is more gorgeous than the last. * Photo: Island Windjammers

SAGITTA has 11 double cabins with a double bed below and bunk above, and two single cabins without portholes. One of the doubles is the Owner’s Suite, with a king-sized bed, small fridge, flat screen TV with DVD player, and granite and tile master bath (none of the other cabins have TVs). All have portholes.

Island Windjammers Public Rooms

The whole point of an Island Windjammer cruise is to be outside on deck soaking up the sun and fresh Caribbean air, and enjoying the sailing ship experience and the quirkiness of the vessels — each has a very interesting background.

VELA was built in 1988 in Puget Sound, Washington, and deployed in the Marshall Islands as a floating medical clinic called Tole Mour, or “Gift of Life and Health.” Later she was used as an education vessel for students studying sailing, oceanography and marine biology. In late 2014, Island Windjammers purchased the ship and rechristened her VELA, and a year later did major renovations, replacing the dormitory-style cabins with en suite single and double cabins; there’s also a new pilot house, large enclosed bar and dining saloon on the top deck.

DIAMANT was built in 1978 in Taiwan and then later spent two decades sailing in the Galapagos Islands before Island Windjammers purchased her in 2009 and she’s been the fleet favorite ever since. She got a facelift in fall 2016 that reduced her passenger capacity to 10 passengers in five cabins and create an overall spiffier look (“sophisticated not stuffy” the line’s website points out). Of the two passenger decks, the top deck has both covered and open-air dining tables, plus a bar and deck chairs. The cabins are on the lower deck.

Hanging out on Deck aboard Sagitta. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Hanging out on Deck aboard Sagitta. * Photo: Island Windjammers

The three-deck, three-masted SAGITTA was built for the Swedish Navy in 1960, and in later years was completely updated for cruising. Today she has a dining area, bar, lounge and mini library inside on the Main Deck; and above on the outside Upper Deck, another dining area, deck chairs, and an open bridge.

Island Windjammers Dining

Meals are served at one very social open seating at a few tables, with local dishes to the tune of chicken roti, conch soup, pumpkin soup, callaloo and fresh fish as well as continental standards the likes of cheeseburgers and salads. Fresh island fruits are part of the picture, from passion fruit to guava, star fruit, sour oranges and bananas.

Island Windjammers

Delicious meals cooked up with local ingredients and Island panache. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Island Windjammers Activities & Entertainment

The day starts with the captain’s story time when he explains what’s happening for the day; the ships spend part of every day in port somewhere. The pace is easy going and free — while away the day swimming off the side of the ship (when conditions permit), take the ships’ kayaks for a spin nearby, try paddle boarding, or sip rum punch with new friends in an inflatable “floating island.”

There are a handful of shore excursions offered on most itineraries, but many passengers are content to find a good beach or wander around on their own. Sometimes lunch is served on a quiet beach somewhere, otherwise meals on are on board. Occasionally passengers will arrange their own diving trips, and spend part of a day deep down under looking at the colorful fishies.

Happy hour is a big thing and drinks on deck are a favored pastime for many; you’re free to bring aboard your favorite spirits or mixers, though why bother when beer, wine, rum punch and soft drinks are on the house. Evenings, the crew may start a bonfire on a nearby beach or organize a pub-crawl. Theme cruises from time to time focus on rum (with a rum expert on board to educate and do tastings), solo cruisers (no kids or couples allowed!), pirates (with costume contests, pirate trivia and visits to spots where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed), local food tasting, and yoga. Om shanti! 🙏🏼

Island Windjammers

Swing from the rigging, yipeee! * Photo: Island Windjammers

Along the Same Lines

Star Clippers is in the ballpark, though its passengers are more international and its ships are much larger, and the overall experience is more high-end.


These ships are not suitable for people with mobility problems, as staircases are steep, doorways narrow and door sills high.

Island Windjammers Contact

Georgia-based Island Windjammers; 1-877-772-4549,



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Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

By Heidi Sarna.

For the past decade, Island Windjammers has been tootling around the Caribbean with its trio of 10-, 24- and 26-passenger sailing ships in all their wonderfully quirky glory. The vibe is laid-back, wind-in-your-hair, rum-in-hand chilling out.  Click here for our Island Windjammers review. 

Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

Island hopping in the Caribbean is a dream. * Photo: Island Windjammers


Adding some spice to the already appealing Island Windjammers ethos of island hopping, sun bathing, swimming, and snorkeling, is a handful of annual quirky Island Windjammers theme cruises.

Upcoming theme cruises for 2018 & 2019  include…
Taste of the Islands Food Cruise

Savor onboard cooking demos and visits to local markets to check out the island spices and flavors.

VELA, September 29-October 5, 2019

Round-trip from Grenada, calling on Mayreau, Bequia, Tobagao Cays, Carriacou, and Union Island.


Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

A farmer’s market in the Islands. * Photo: Island Windjammers


Pirates and Mermaids Week

We’re talking costume party, treasure hunt, story time and lots of rum swilling. Did we mention rum?

VELA, October 6-12, 2019

Round-trip from Grenada, calling on Mayreau, Bequia, Tobagao Cays, Carriacou, and Union Island.


Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

An Island Windjammers cruise is footloose and fancy free. * Photo: Island Winjdammers



Rum Cruise

You can guess what this is about. Learn the history of rum, how rum is made, and how to mix great rum drinks. Sample premium whites, darks, aged, spiced, flavored and even a drop or two of over-proof rum. Rum-related activities are hosted by Dave Russell and fares include daily sampling of some of the world’s most exotic rums.

VELA, November 24-30, 2019

Round-trip from St. Lucia calling on Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, Marie Galante, and Martinqiue.


Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

Rum and chocolate pairing … life doesn’t get much better! * Photo: Heidi Sarna


Island Hops Beer Cruise

Island Windjammers has partnered with West Indies Beer Co. to offer beer lovers a sailing to remember — the 3rd annual Island Hops Cruise. 🍻🍺Cruise hosts for the week, Mark and Jill Heath, the proprietors of West Indies Beer Co., will explain all there is to know about styles, hops, yeast and malts. Sample lots of local brews, from Drunken Goat to Rogue Pirate and more, and even brew beer on board the Vela!

VELA, October 13-19, 2019

Round-trip from Grenada, calling on Mayreau, Bequia, Tobagao Cays, Carriacou, and Union Island.


Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

Island Hops Testing & Tasting. * Photo: Island Windjammers


Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

The Vela under full sail. * Photo: Island Windjammers


Sagitta’s Solo Sojourn

These cruises are for solo cruisers only, no couples or children, just a group of adventurous, like-minded travelers looking for some relaxing fun in the sun.

Sagitta, December 2-8, 2018

Round-trip from St. Kitts, calling on Anguilla, Nevis, St. Barts, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten.


Quirky Island Windjammers Theme Cruises

A Sagitta standard cabin makes sharing a breeze. * Photo: Island Windjammers


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Blue Lagoon Cruises

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Blue Lagoon Cruises operates a spiffy small 68-passenger catamaran on informal seven-night cruises to a string of tropical islands in the Fijian chain. While the company was established over a half-century ago, its present style of operation with the FIJI PRINCESS began in 2004. The emphasis is on visits to the islands, the people and a whole host of activities ashore while the vessel is at anchor or even tied to a coconut tree.

There is minimal sailing time as the islands are very close together, and if the water is at all rough, the vessel may shelter on the lee side away from the winds. Fiji is a popular stopover between the U.S. West Coast and New Zealand and Australia, so North Americans may set down here for a week, take the cruise and then fly onward to the antipodes. Cruises operate year-round.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

FIJI PRINCESS (built 1998, acquired 2004; 68 passengers) Most passengers will be adults (and honeymooners) from Australia, New Zealand (the closest large countries), then British, Europeans and North Americans. Designated cruises, especially during school holidays, include activities for families with children. The crew is all Fijian.

Passenger Decks

Four decks, three with cabins, and no elevator.




Cruises last seven days, while three- and four-day stints are also available with transit from the main embarkation port by high-speed transfer vessel. Very little time is spent sailing, usually not more than four hours a day, as the primary objective is to enjoy the string of islands and the water-based activities.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

The departure port is Denarau Marina, a short distance from Nadi Airport on the main island, for a sail out to the Mamanuca and Tasawa Islands. The cruises offer tropical island settings with virtually uninhabited beaches, a range of water-based activities, and a cultural experience among the island locals and the all-Fiji crew.

As the catamaran FIJI takes just 68 passengers, the atmosphere is relaxed and as social as you would like it to be.

Included Features

All excursions and water sport activities including snorkeling gear, spyboards (lie on a floating platform and look through a window to view underwater activities while propelling with one’s feet),  and kayaks, coffee, tea, juices, filtered water.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Snorkeling is amazing in this part of the world and gear is included in the fares. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Gratuities, diving gear, sport fishing, and alcoholic beverages are extra. A donation made to the Vinaka Fiji Trust is added to the final bill, and the amount may be removed or adjusted upward or downward. The trust aids villagers who are living below the poverty line, and the cruises visit one of the locations.

Why Go?

Once you leave the main island, you will soon enter another seemingly far away world that is only a few hours sailing aboard the FIJI PRINCESS. The seascapes are blue, while the islands are white sands with tropical landscapes, welcoming local people and adventures ashore and in the calm waters. Fiji makes a fine stopover with direct flights to and from the U.S. West Coast and then via much shorter flights to and from New Zealand or Australia.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Experience the local culture and customs. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

When to Go?

The weather chart shows that the best months to visit are between late March and early December, with November to April having the most rainfall, occurring in brief downpours. Daytime high temperatures range from 79F (26C) to 88F (31C) — not much of a variation in this tropical part of the world. Trade winds are normally east-southeast, and cyclones may appear in the wet season.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

One of the most gorgeous places on earth. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises


The Upper and Middle Orchid Decks hold most of the cabins, here outside with windows and approximately 142 sq. ft. (13 sq. m) with queen or two single beds. Hibiscus Deck, below the Orchid deck, has cabins of 117 sq. ft (11 sq. m) and queen or single beds, windows and a location on the dining saloon deck.

A double bed cabin. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Shared amenities amongst all the cabins include a welcome fruit platter, complimentary daily stocked mini bar (beer, wine, soft drinks & bottled water), a sun care pack, in-cabin Nespresso coffee machine,  tea making facilities, and cabin TV for  DVD viewing.

Public Rooms

The main lounge with bar faces aft on the Middle Orchid Deck, and a second bar is on the top Sky Deck where the sun loungers (deck chairs) are located.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Bar Lounge on FIJI PRINCESS. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises


The covered restaurant is located aft on the lowest Hibiscus Deck and faces aft to a splash pool and then over the stern. The food emphasizes local fresh fruit, fish and vegetables, and is served in an informal setting facing aft over the stern. Seating is open and in addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, morning coffee and afternoon tea are also served. A boutique and reception are also located on this level.

The dining salon. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

While anchored in a lagoon, shore trips visit remote villages, discover Fijian culture, partake in an island feast as well as learn how to prepare your own, explore several caves, and visit schools. Just relaxing on South Pacific island beaches is another appealing option, and one stop will be at the line’s private beach.

Blue Lagoon Cruises

Being in the water is a big part of a Blue Lagoon Cruise. * Photo: Blue Lagoon Cruises

Water sports choices are swimming, including with manta rays, stand-up paddle boarding, and snorkeling. Diving and fishing trips are optional extras. A glass bottom boat makes trips for viewing underwater. On board, there is a splash pool, spa, and deck chairs on the upper sun deck. Entertainment comes aboard at some island stops.

Special Notes

On trips to Fijian villages, dress is modest. Men are provided with a sulu knee-length skirt-like covering and women are asked to cover up their bare shoulders.

Along the Same Lines

Captain Cook Cruises also operates in Fiji.


Blue Lagoon Cruises, PO Box PD052, Port Denarau, Fiji Islands;, (679) 675 0500.




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Captain Cook Cruises

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

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

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

Captain Cook Cruises

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

REEF ENDEAVOUR (built 1996 & 130 passengers).

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

The ship has five decks and an elevator.


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


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

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

Yasawa Island. * Map: Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

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

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

Included features

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

Why Go?

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

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

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

When to Go?

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


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

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

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

Public Rooms

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


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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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


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


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Sailing ships in Indonesia

Seatrek Sailing Adventures

SeaTrek’s two traditional sailing ships take adventurous souls to remote corners of the vast Indonesian archipelago, the single-minded focus of the company for more than 25 years. Itineraries zero in on the islands east of Bali — mainly Flores, Maluku, Sulawesi and fascinating West Papua.

The sturdy ironwood pinisi-style “Bugis” schooners were built in Kalimantan, Indonesia, and are full of charm. Their dramatic sheer (curvature) and dhow-like hull add to the ambiance and so does the hardworking and friendly Indonesian crew. No matter where you’re from, you’ll feel a million miles from home the minute you step on board.

The ships are powered by a combination of engine and sails; sails-only when and if the wind is cooperating. You’ll definitely feel the ships moving and bucking in the surf, so having sea legs is a big plus. Both have been recently refurbished and are offering a more polished experience than in years past, and further, there are now more expert-led itineraries offered aboard this pair of very cool Indonesian sailing ships.

Sailing ships in Indonesia

The lovely Katharina & Ombak Putih. * Seatrek Sailing Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

KATHARINA (built 1995 & 12 passengers) and OMBAK PUTIH (b. 1997 & 24 p)

Passenger Profile

Seatrek Sailing Adventures attracts adventure seekers from around the globe, with most tending to hail from Australia, the UK and North America, with a sprinkling of Asian passengers.

Passenger Decks

3, with no elevators.


$$   Expensive

Included Features

Meals, soft drinks and all excursions throughout cruise. Beer, wine and cocktails are extra, as are optional tips.

Sailing ships in Indonesia

A traditional Indonesian dance and music performance on an excursion. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

  • From March through early September, OMBAK PUTIH does mostly 7-night itineraries between the islands of Bali and Flores to see the famous Komodo lizards, trek along volcanic mountain trails and snorkel; KATHARINA sticks to mostly customized charters of varying lengths to the Komodo region.
  • The rest of the year, OMBAK PUTIH ventures further east on week-long and longer, more remote itineraries in the Banda, Spice and Halmahera Islands, where waterfalls and white sand beaches are the backdrop to exotic wildlife. Some itineraries visit West Papau and Papau New Guinea to observe the strange customs of the tribal people.
  • About a dozen expert-led cruises a year between the two ships include two 12-day “Wallace Cruises” through Indonesia’s eastern Raja Ampat Islands with Dr. Tony Whitten, a Cambridge educated conservationist, author and Indonesia expert; the route follows in the footsteps of the great British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace. Besides collaborating with Darwin on the theory of evolution through natural selection, he identified what is now termed the Wallace Line, which divides the Indonesian archipelago into two parts: a western portion in which the animals are largely of Asian origin, and an eastern portion where the fauna reflect Australasia.
Why Go?

To get far far away from civilization and to learn something about the vast diversity of Indonesian culture, history and landscapes on traditional-style ships that hark way back to the early days of sailing. For those who really want to learn something, choose one of Seatrek’s expert-led cruises for a truly memorable adventure aboard one of these Indonesian sailing ships.

When to Go?

The best weather in the Indonesia archipelago occurs in April through September, when heavy rain is less likely.

Romantic? Yes! * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Romantic? Yes! * Photo: Heidi Sarna


Recently refurbished cabins are covered in wood top to bottom and are charming but very small; there’s not much storage space, but then again you won’t need much more than tops, shorts, bathing suits and sarongs. Each cabin has a private bathroom with a shower nozzle above or next to the toilet.

Cabins on OMBAK PUTIH have portholes, KATHARINA’s do not and are a tad claustrophobic; though the point is to be up on deck or in the water most of the day. Most have bunk beds or doubles, with a handful of triples (three bunks or a double and bunk bed) on each ship.

Sailing ships in Indonesia

A triple cabin on Ombak Putih. * Photo: Seatrek Adventures

Public Rooms

The top deck is where everyone gathers for dining, drinking, socializing and scenery gazing. There’s also a small room below decks with a bar, music system, few shelves of books, and some tables and chairs. Besides your cabin, that’s it. The point of a SeaTrek journey is to be on deck.

The top deck is the ship's hub. * Photo Credit: Heidi Sarna

The top deck is the ship’s hub. * Photo Credit: Heidi Sarna


Meals are served at one large table on the main deck, under a tarp strung between the masts if it’s raining or too hot (the indoor lounge is used for dining if the weather turns bad), and are usually a combination of buffet and served dishes. Food is simple, hearty and some of it based on Indonesian stir-fry vegetable, noodle and rice dishes. There are also western staples the likes of scrambled eggs, burgers and French fries, and an afternoon snack to the tune of fried plantains and salsa.

Activities & Entertainment

When not in port, it’s all about hanging out up on deck. Gazing at the passing scenery or reading, snoozing, sunbathing, and sipping chilled cans of Indonesian Bintang beer while chatting with new friends are all par for the course. The cruise director and/or any expert guides who sail on board — from textile experts, authors and historians to legends like Lonely Planet’s Tony Wheeler — will also give talks about Indonesia and the upcoming ports of call.

The lounge offers a basic music system and a TV, but otherwise often no satellite signal for phones and the Internet (which can be a big blessing of course). Mingling with new friends, drinks and moody sunsets are the big show. After dinner once or twice, the crew gets out their guitars and sings, inviting passengers to join in and dance. There are typically one or two ports of call per day, and all shore excursions are included and guided by the cruise director, who doubles as the tour guide and mother hen.

There is snorkeling around remote coral reefs via the the small skiffs carried and diving off the ships’ rails when anchored in the middle of glorious nowhere. On some itineraries,  such as Raja Ampat, there is diving in some of the world’s most stunning underwater landscape.

In port, there are visits to small museums and places where local weaving and other handicrafts are done. Expect nature hikes, bird watching and perhaps a visit to a local sultan (ruler) for tea and a classic Indonesian dance performance.

Sailing ships in Indonesia

Katharina’s Salon. * Photo: Seatrek Sailing Adventures

Along the Same Lines

Sea Safari Cruises and ships offered for charter including Dunia Baru and Silolona Sojourns’ boats.


These ships are not suitable for people with mobility problems, as staircases are steep, doorways narrow and door sills high.


Seatrek Sailing Adventures,


Tropical butterfly makes land fall on a passenger. * Photo credit: Heidi Sarna

Tropical butterfly makes land fall on a passenger. * Photo credit: Heidi Sarna


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Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure featuring cruisers and the ship crew on st lucia

By Elysa Matsen Leonard.

Island Windjammers’ Caribbean Sailing Adventure

If you want to know what an Island Windjammers Caribbean Sailing Adventure is all about, think adult summer camp, contagious laughter and completely checking out for a week. I entered the special Island Windjammer world recently when I sailed on a 6-night cruise aboard the 26-passenger Vela round-trip from Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. Along the way, we visited the islands of Dominica, Iles des Saintes, Marie Galante and Martinique. It was the next best thing to chartering your own private sailing ship, and a heck of a lot cheaper.

Read Part 1 of Island Windjammer’s Caribbean Adventure here.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure

The three-mast Vela is a beauty alright! * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard


Part 2

Day Three: Oui Oui

Again, we woke up in a different port. Today, it was Iles de Saintes, a small island off the coast of Guadeloupe. I went with another passenger friend, Chris, to meet the dive operator that operations manager Jess kindly researched and recommended, “La Dive Bouteille – Plongées des Saintes.” Others went to shop in the village. Since we didn’t speak French and the French couple who ran the outfit spoke little English, it was a bit challenging above the water, but once below, we were all on the same page.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure stops in st lucia with people getting ready to dive

Getting ready to dive in St. Lucia. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

The diving was rich with all types of hard and soft corals and thankfully no signs of bleaching. All the usual suspects of an Atlantic coral reef were there, from sand divers to porcupine puffers, blue-headed wrasse and spotted moray eels. If you listen carefully to the audio you can hear me squeal with delight upon seeing a pair of puffer fish.  Above a sandy patch, we saw a mystical garden of small dancing eels and jawfish that hover over their holes and once they see your shadow disappear into the sand.


Our dive guides were experts on this reef and loved showing us their special place. We snacked on tea and madeleines on the dive boat between our dives, and it was one of those days where you breath deep, recognize the beauty of the sea and are just thankful for the experience. Back on board with our Vela-mates, we all hopped in the dinghy for some afternoon shopping and that evening, we took one more dinghy ride for a drink at a local café.


Day Four: Beach Paradise

The night before, Vela had moved on to another small island off the coast of Guadeloupe, Marie Galante. We had our own private and gorgeous sandy beach for swimming and snorkeling. The water temperature was perfectly inviting and there were areas for sunning and for shade. As our dinghy approached the island, we felt like we were on “Survivor!” — only we didn’t have to worry about food, shelter or competing for any immunity idols.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure cruise ship Vela on the ocean

Serene Marie Galante Beach. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

A delicious lunch from Vela was brought to us via the magic dinghy — “cheeseburgers in paradise” with breadfruit fries. It was a perfect day. I snorkeled looking for seahorses in the grassy bay and was surprised to find a few starfish and a baby queen triggerfish who was sheltering near a large conch shell. That night we sailed from the small cluster of islands surrounding Guadeloupe to Martinique.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure sets out home made meal

Viola! And there was lunch brought to us on the beach by our awesome crew; * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

Day Five: Snorkeling as Good as Any Diving

Our day in Martinique began with a visit to the small quaint seaside town of Saint Pierre. This village was completely destroyed by the eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902, the worst volcanic eruption in the 20th century that killed some 30,000 people.

We had a choice of touring a rum factory or going into town and visiting the ruins from the volcanic eruption. I chose the latter and accompanied by my Bostonian friend, Joanne, who had become a close friend at this point, we explored the ruins and enjoyed a stroll through the picturesque seaside village. There were many small cafes and quaint French shops, and we indulged in coffee and pastries while we soaked up the views.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure

Vela reaches Martiinique. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

We returned to the ship and in the afternoon sailed over to a small swimming beach called Anse d’Arlet. Jess told us there was amazing snorkeling there, though when I saw the location and the large cluster of people in the water, I had my doubts. I had become the snorkeling leader, at this point in the trip since people began to figure out that I knew my fish. Turns out, the snorkel was outstanding and I was very happy to teach fish ID’ing for the afternoon. Our snorkeling stint was as good as any dive, with great numbers of a diverse population of fish, even an octopus.


Day 6: All Good Things Must Come to an End

Overnight we had sailed back to St. Lucia and into Rodney Bay, north of Marigot Bay, where we would spend our last day. One of the interesting excursion choices was an off-road Segway tour. I wasn’t sure I would be good at this but thought that on the last day I should break out of my comfort zone. I found out Segway riding requires no skill and it was just a ton of fun.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure with sailors on a segway tour on st lucia

The view was to die for! * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

We took a bus to the drop-off location and our guide led us up a mountain for gorgeous views and taught us about plants and history along the way. At the top of the mountain, we had drinks and snacks and then headed back down to a beach bar and then back to the pier for those who wanted to get back to the ship for lunch. Me? I just had to do one more dive! I saw that there was a scuba company doing shore diving — which means you don gear at the beach, walk into the water and swim from the shore to a dive location, in this case, a shipwreck.

The dive guide took me out to the wreck and we saw a school of squid, three types of moray eels, and all my fish friends. I was wearing the wrong dive boots with my fins and ended up with blistered feet, but it was well worth the pain.

Overall, the islands we visited had excellent diving and snorkeling opportunities to explore a spectacular coral reef environment. More on this later, stay tuned!

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure view underwater of an eel

We spotted a snake-like moray eel! * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard.

Our Last Evening

That night was our last evening together on Vela. We could have gone to a fish fry event on St. Lucia, but it was a unanimous decision to spend our last night together on the ship with our week-old Vela family. We played a raunchy laughter-filled round of “Cards Against Humanity,” as we swigged our beer and wine, that was made more fun since our 90-year-old patriarch decided to play and drink along; ever the good sport. We could see how he made it to 90 in such good shape and spirits. That evening on deck playing cards was a great ending to a beautiful week.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure with cruisers playing the game cards against humanity

Eric playing along! * Photo: Jess Benson

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PROS & CONS in a Nutshell

I loved ….
  • Gorgeous sunsets from the deck.
  • Unexpected double rainbows from the ship’s deck.
  • Food – Chef Lenny was amazing, a Caribbean twist and all food cooked from scratch and seconds were always available.
  • Dining al fresco on the deck of Vela.
  • Our own private beach; think Survivor but with awesome food and no competitions or immunity idols necessary.
  • Snorkeling is the best ever in some surprise locations, as good as any boat dive.
  • Dinghy Rides. Loved this mode of transportation, we could go anywhere — or so it seemed!
  • Meeting friends for life and connecting with great people.
  • Internet service slim-to-none for most of the cruise – you won’t be able to get online often with a clear connection (PRO & CON! )
But ….
  • Seasickness.  No joke, take the medicine.
  • Sunburn.  Also, no joke, wear 30 SPF (reef-friendly) sunscreen, hats, and sunshirts; thankful for the ship’s shady tarp!
  • Food.  Although it was amazing this is not one of those cruises where you get 1,000 choices on the menu. This was fine for me, and make sure it is for you too. If you have severe allergies, this is not the cruise for you. If you have minor dietary concerns, they can accommodate small requests.
  • The drive to and from the airport is an hour away and the roads are narrow and windy and the cab drivers are a bit crazy; stay calm and enjoy the ride.
  • Traveling to St. Lucia takes a full day so plan extra time to get there before you leave on the cruise; you need to give yourself at least one extra day.
  • Excursions. You won’t have a ton of choices, but this cruise is to enjoy, relax and do nothing at all or a few things if you want. It’s laid-back relaxation.
  • I can’t lie.  I’m having trouble coming up with any more, it was amazing and I sure hope to go again!


Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure view of the ship from aboard the dinghy in the water

Our beloved dinghy. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard


And Last but Not Least … My Crew Crush

You will be spoiled by the crew. From Bernard who figured out early on that that I needed three cups of coffee to function and start my day, to Chef Lenny who would let you have seconds of your favorite dishes and Stephen, our steward, whose laughter would instantly spread to whomever was nearby. Jess, the ship’s operations manager (aka cruise director), made sure we each did everything we wanted to do, including my diving, no matter how much time it took to arrange and set up. The captains and engineers worked tirelessly to make sure that we had a seamless and excellent trip, and the captain still managed to eat several meals with us during the week.

Island Windjammers' Caribbean Sailing Adventure crew aboard the ship Vela

Island Windjammer’s Vela Crew. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

The crew all seemed to have a similar integrity, passion, and love for what they do. Many shared stories about their life at sea and on the islands — Chef Lenny, from the island Nevis, admitted although he cooks and lives on a ship for a living, he doesn’t know how to swim and doesn’t even like the water. LOL!


Quirky Cruise is the small ship cruise expert. Whether you’re a veteran on the water or exploring the idea of becoming a seafaring fellow you won’t want to miss out on your chance for your own personal adventure! Your own small ship sailing adventure is a click away. Don’t miss a post, subscribe to HERE for monthly updates! 


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Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

By Elysa Matsen Leonard.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

If you want to know what an Island Windjammers Caribbean adventure cruise is all about, think adult summer camp, contagious laughter and completely checking out for a week. I entered the special Island Windjammer world recently when I sailed on a 6-night cruise aboard the 26-passenger Vela round-trip from Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. Along the way, we visited the islands of Dominica, Iles des Saintes, Marie Galante and Martinique. It was the next best thing to chartering your own private sailing ship; and a heck of a lot cheaper.  (Read Part 2 HERE.)

Meeting My Shipmates

The meeting point for embarking passengers was the Hurricane Hole restaurant and bar in Marigot Bay, a short water taxi ride from the hotel where I stayed for three nights before the cruise. Like that first day of summer camp, I felt a bit nervous. Would I be the only single or would there be other solo passengers? Would I like them? Would they like me? My mind was racing with questions.

The first people I met were a lovely 50-something couple from the San Francisco Bay area, Kathy and John, who were celebrating a milestone anniversary. And there was Joanne, a wickedly funny single woman from Boston cruising for her 60th birthday. Another single traveler from Wisconsin, Kristen loved the freedom of solo travel and was an experienced Island Windjammer. She loved this type of cruise even though she was prone to sea sickness — she wore the patch and sailed on. To my surprise, there was a couple from Annapolis, near my home in Ashburn, Virginia. Bryan and Beth were both 50-ish with busy corporate jobs. They lived by the sea and loved small ships. I spent lots of time laughing with them and talking about our next adventures.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

The whole gang! * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

We were also joined by a family of nine from the west coast, with a spunky 90-year-old patriarch Eric. His son Greg had arranged the trip as a tribute to a sailing they had made as a family into Marigot Bay some 50 years back. I can’t lie, I was a bit concerned about how he would fare on this trip. Turns out the spry nonagenarian more than held his own; he was clearly born with sea legs and took it all in stride. Eric was a retired engineer who had at one point years ago left his job, bought a boat similar to Vela, and took his family on a Caribbean sailing adventure. The tall strong man with a sweet demeanor shared stories with anyone who would listen.

The crew said it happens every week. No matter their differences, passengers seem to magically come together, and for the most part, the differences fade away fast as the shared experience of sailing together on a quirky schooner in the Caribbean takes hold. The ups and downs, literally bring people together — the crew as well as the passengers.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

Chef Lenny. * Photo Joanne Hutchinson

The Vela Backstory

Before Island Windjammer passengers ever entered the picture, Vela had a story of her own. The three-mast, 156-foot-long sailing schooner had been a medical-support vessel sailing around the Marshall Islands. She was named Tole Mour, which means “gift of life.” She then became part of the Catalina Island Marine Institute and offered sailing training, oceanography and marine biology education for hundreds of school-aged kids. She was purchased by Island Windjammers in 2014 after the ship was discovered in California by Captain Nervo Cortez, the line’s fleet captain and a man who radiates a humble confidence in all he does. He was onboard my cruise along with Captain Alexis. Nervo Cortez sailed the ship 4,500 nautical miles from California through the waters of five countries and through the Panama Canal, to St. Vincent and then Grenada, where the ship was refurbished before her first sailing out of St. Lucia.  It was renamed after the constellation, Vela, which also means “sail” in Italian and Spanish. Today it’s the largest of the line’s trio of ships.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

The Vela and the dinghy launch. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Day One: Velacoladas & Mal de Mer

The cruise started and ended in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia and we visited at least one new place each day, sometimes two. Our Uber for the week was a dinghy. Dinghies got us between the ship and shore with some dry and also some wet landings right on to the beach. We easily adapted to this mode of transportation, donning our life vests and hopping aboard; even our 90-year-old passenger seemed to master this with ease. Our dinghy trips were one of many sources of humor; though it didn’t take much to get us all giggling.

Our first day was spent in St. Lucia, and we traveled from Marigot Bay to Soufriere where we did a late afternoon snorkel at the Anse Chastanet Resort Marine National Park. The water was a bit choppy and we were slowly losing daylight, but we saw several black and white spotted drum fish, iridescent blue chromis, several species of grunts, and some stoplight parrot fish. It was just a glimpse of the amazing snorkeling to come.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

Snorkeling in Soufriere and spotting blue chromis. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

At sunset each day was happy hour, with snacks and the signature drink, the Velacolada, a delicious concoction of rum, pineapple and coconut — not too sweet or too strong. I still crave this drink at about 6pm every day, even weeks after I’ve returned home. There was also a refrigerator filled with soda, beer and wine for consumption 24/7, as well as ice-cold water and iced tea. Beer and wine are included in the fare as well as mixers for other types of drinks; passengers are free to bring their own spirits on board.

the author aboard the cruise ship deck with new friends

Elysa with new friends Beth & Bryan. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

Meal time that first evening was inside, as it was a bit too windy to eat out on deck. Our favorite dinners and happy hours over the course of the week were outside on the deck at several tables set up under a shady tarp. Some perfectly timed rainbows and sunsets were the icing on the cake. In this intimate setting, it didn’t take long for 16 passengers and 10 crew members to become fast friends — one big shippy family.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

Vela’s indoor dining saloon. Outdoor dining was also offered, weather permitting. * Photo: Island Windjammers

During the week we had some excellent meals served by the ship’s stewards, Bernard and Stephen. If someone requested seconds or a special order, they always responded with a smile and a “no worries.” Favorites included pork tenderloin with a compote of apples and red onions, local fish, barbecued ribs and chicken, and eggs benedict for breakfast. With each meal there was a Caribbean twist. For instance, the “cheeseburger in paradise” was accompanied by coleslaw and fries, but these fries were made of breadfruit, not potatoes, and they were delicious. The tuna salad one day was really delish, and when I asked Chef Lenny why it was so tasty, he answered:  “I added some island secrets.” The desserts were show stoppers too, especially a soursop fruit sorbet and to-die-for cheesecake drizzled with caramel that was so good passengers begged for seconds.

eggs benedict at breakfast on board cruise ship Vela

Chef Lenny’s Eggs Benedict. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

Rockabye Baby

The ship began to sail after dinner, traveling at night so we could spend our days on shore. Sailing between islands, as opposed to the calmer seas along the coast, meant open seas and some choppy waters.

I was one of the luckier ones. I love the churn of the ocean and have never been seasick on the many small boats I’ve been on. My Vela cruise confirmed this. However, many other passengers quickly found out the first night that they were not so lucky. The “mom gene” kicked in, and I spent the night handing out Ginger ale. Anyone prone to motion sickness and for those who don’t know if they are: definitely bring sea sickness meds (like Dramamine and/or a prescription patch) and use them before things get rocky.

Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

A cozy Vela Staysail cabin. * Photo: Island Windjammers

Day Two: Sea Legs Return

As people got their sea legs back on day two, the fun resumed. There were rainbows, lots of sunshine, crystal blue waters in shades I’ll never forget, amazing snorkeling, diving and relaxation. Snorkeling equipment is complimentary as are several paddle boards and floating mats, plus dinghy trips to and from the islands for walks and hiking etc. The idea on an Island Windjammers Caribbean adventure cruise is to reeeeeelax so days are not heavily scheduled and sometimes passengers choose to just chill on deck.

view of Dominica from the small ship cruise line Island Windjammers

Serenity approaching Dominica. * Photo: Elysa Matsen Leonard

Day two was the island of Dominica. They were hard hit by Hurricane Maria last September, and are still recovering — we saw downed trees, closed bridges and roofless buildings everywhere. A few excursions are offered in most ports, and in Dominica, we had the choice of an island tour or just a walk around the beach and town. I chose the island tour for $40. Our driver, Winston, was a proud man and told us of their progress and setbacks throughout the tour. He gave us a mental picture of a green lush Dominica that was known for exporting fruits and vegetables before this category 5 storm wrecked its havoc. At the end of the tour, despite the destruction, we would learn the secrets of chocolate making. (See my follow-up article for more on that!) That night we left Dominica for Iles des Saintes, where I would spend a gorgeous morning scuba diving. More on that later as well!



Island Windjammers Caribbean Adventure

Elysa and her new friend Eric.

Quirky Cruise is the small ship cruise expert so first-time cruisers needn’t worry! Read our answers to questions about small-ship cruising on our FAQ’s page and then learn more here about the differences between big ships and small ships besides their size. 

☞ ☞Read Part 2 HERE.


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Silhouette Cruises, established in 1997 with one traditional motor-assisted sailing vessel, expanded over a 10-year period to develop a four-ship motor-sailer fleet at two different price levels to cruise amongst several granite-based islands and the oldest of their type in the world. British General Charles Gordon (aka Gordon of Khartoum) considered them to be the Garden of Eden. The ships sail year-round from Mahé, the main island and the island chain’s capital, where you’ll find the international air and seaport. The Seychelles are located in the Indian Ocean east of East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania), northeast of Madagascar, and southwest of India. Until 1971, the islands were accessed by ship once or twice a month from Mombasa or Bombay, and during that period, visited by very few tourists, maybe a thousand a year. The Indian Ocean is blessed with two outstanding island archipelagos — the Seychelles and Maldives — for small-ship cruising interisland and for taking up a variety of activities such as diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking and swimming. You can also choose to do little or nothing if you can resist all the temptations of this pair of tropical paradises. And yes, they are far far away from just about everything. The line’s name comes from Silhouette Island, a popular eye-catching island rising from the sea off Beau Vallon on the main island of Mahé.

Silhouette Cruise

Sunrise in the Seychelles

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

SEA SHELL (built 1920 as a pilot vessel, converted in 1997 & 23 passengers); SEA PEARL (b. 1915 as a sailing/fishing vessel, converted in 1999 & 27p); SEA STAR (b. 2004, 30p); and SEA BIRD (redesigned 2007 & 27p).

Passenger Decks

SEA SHELL & SEA PEARL two decks; SEA STAR & SEA BIRD three decks. No elevators.

Silhouette Cruises

The Sea Bird. * Photo: Silhouette Cruises

Passenger Profile

International English-speaking clientele of all ages with a mix of interests — serious and novice divers and sailors, active types, and those who like “take it or leave it” activities.


$ to $$ — Lower range applies to SEA SHELL and SEA PEARL where cabins are without private facilities.


Yearround cruising of 6 and 7 nights from Port Victoria on Mahé to several out islands and atolls. The island of Praslin is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site and noted for giant Coco de Mer (palms trees) and the island of La Digue is known for giant tortoises and beautiful beaches framed by granite outcroppings that are also found on coral atolls. The local inhabitants are multi-cultural. with the French being the first European power to rule the archipelago and then the British, until independence in 1976. Between them, the two nations are responsible for bringing Africans, South Asian, Southeast Asians, and Chinese to the islands.

A few departures have specific themes such as diving, sea kayaking and natural history.

Silhouette Cruises

The main island Mahé

Included Features

Snorkeking equipment (mask & fins), kayaking, and bottom line fishing.

Why Go?

The main attractions are remoteness and the sheer beauty of the seascapes, coral atolls, fine sandy beaches, granite outcroppings, tropical vegetation, birds and marine life, appealing climate and unique attractions such as the coco de mer and tortoises.

Silhouette Cruises

Praslin – The Seychelles

When to Go?

The islands have no extremes with the average high temperature varying between 85-89F and lows 79-83F. Slightly more rain falls November to January.

Silhouette Cruises

A Category A cabin on the Sea Pearl. * Photo: Silhouette Cruises

SEA SHELL & SEA PEARL, the heritage pair, have both double bed and twin-bedded cabins with extra bunks and shared shower facilities, while SEA STAR & SEA BIRD have double-bed cabins and some with an extra bed or bunk and private shower facilities. The latter pair have A/C in cabins.

Public Rooms

As these vessels sail in tropical climes, the waking hours are spent out of doors with the lounge/bar and dining area used at meal times, and if there is a rain shower or squall. All vessels have an air-conditioned dining saloon and STAR and BIRD have A/C lounges. All offer on deck outdoor seating areas, including covered sections. TV, DVD, washing machines and dryers on all vessels.


Silhouette Cruises

The Sea Pearl’s dining area. * Photo: Silhouette Cruises

Mealtimes are shared at open sittings with buffet-served meals. While the Seychelles are relatively remote islands, they do produce lots of fruit, some vegetables, and lots of fish and shellfish. Menus are international and creole.

Activities & Entertainment

Serious and novice diving comes with an instructor, plus there’s snorkeling, kayaking, standup paddle boarding, bottom fishing, sailing instruction, and cruising into colorful marine parks, isolated bays and coves. Enjoy short hikes to beauty spots, mangrove forests, birding, a vanilla plantation, copra mill, former leper colony, Vallee de Mai for coco de mer, and of course, good ‘ole fashioned beach bumming.


Special Notes

Given the long trek to get there and the expense involved, a visit Seychelles may include extra days at a beach resort or planning a completely different add-on such as an East African game park safari in Kenya or Tanzania.

Along the Same Lines

Variety Cruises and others. See also Deep Blue Holidays, similar tropical inter-island cruising in the Maldive Islands.


Silhouette Cruises Ltd., Victoria, Mahé, Seychelles; +248 4 324 026;

Shilouette Cruises

Turtles – The Seychelles


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Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS

The firm, based in the Maldive Islands, an archipelago republic since 1965 and located south southwest of India in the Indian Ocean, got started in 2008. Deep Blue Holidays’ YASAWA PRINCESS was added in 2012 offering weekly cruises throughout the year for divers, snorkelers and those who enjoy beaches and swimming. Considered one of the top diving locations in the world, the Maldives draw aficionados from around the globe.

Deep Blue Holidays is also engaged in resort, city hotel, and guest house stays. While most visitors choose resorts located on 90 different islands, others who like the idea of a small ship taking them to different islands and atolls may find this option hard to resist. Tourism, which that did not come in earnest until 1972,  is now the chief source of revenue.

Note: There was considerable government unrest in recent years, and after a quiet period, another political crisis of sorts has been simmering over the past month or two. The governments of the U.S. and Britain are advising travelers to use extreme caution while visiting Malé, the capital, especially where crowds are gathered and be aware of your surroundings. Some countries have suggested staying away altogether for now. Click here for latest US State Dept. warnings, and go to “Read Travel Advisories” and plug in the country.

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS

Maldives Islands from the air.

Anyone looking for one of the world’s best locations to engage in serious or casual diving, snorkeling, fishing or swimming, while staying aboard a small-ship cruise in a tropical paradise, should have a gander here.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

YASAWA PRINCESS (built 1984, refurbished 2007; 56 passengers).

Passenger Decks

Four decks, no elevator.

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS


Passenger Profile

Young and athletic, older and fit, and some lounge lizards but not many. English-speaking from Britain, Australia, NZ, North America, and those comfortable with English as a second language.


$$ to $$$


7 and 14 days (different itinerary for second week) year-round from the city of Malé, the capital, mail port, and international airport. The city Malé occupies the entire islet of Malé.

Malé is a city of about 100,00 inhabitants, or about 25% of the archipelago country’s population. Most flights to Malé arrive from Dubai, Doha, Colombo, and Singapore. The archipelago’s land mass makes up only 115 square miles (298 sq. kms.) and the islands are surrounded by a lagoon and encircled by a reef structure. While the archipelago is made up of mountaintops rising from the sea bottom, the height above sea level is minimal. With rising seas due to climate change, the Maldives are one of the world’s most endangered countries.

Deep Blue Holidays YASAWA PRINCESS

The Maldives

Included features

All drinks except premium levels, plus daily excursions on cruises that feature both diving and leisure activities. Shore excursions on specialized diving cruises, on the other hand, operate on some but not all days for those not diving and depend on the locale. A dive master and instructor are included in fares, while diving gear supplied by the line is extra. Tips are extra and are to be placed in a single envelope at the end of the trip for the whole crew to share.


Reluctant beauty in the Maldives.

Why Go?

The Maldives are considered one of the finest locales in the world for scuba dividing. The archipelago enjoys largely blue skies and year-round tropical temperatures. Some 90 islands are inhabited and others are used for agriculture, plus there are scores of atolls and lagoons, and coral reefs harboring vast varieties of fish.

When to Go?

Year-round, with the dry season January to March and wet May to November. Peak season is November to April when whale sharks and manta rays are present. Temperatures are comfortably warm year-round, especially when near water, which apart from arriving and departing Malé, is most of the time. The average highs hardly vary from 86-88F and lows 77-80F.



28 cabins are spread over three decks with twins and queen-size beds. Those on the lowest deck have portholes and on the two other decks, with windows and doors that open to the side deck.

Public Rooms

Forward lounge has a bar, and open and covered outdoor lounge spaces.  


Open seating indoors and outdoors with buffet service at all meals. Night barbecues on selected dates.

Activities & Entertainment

For divers, three dives a day on specialized diving trips; once daily on cruises not exclusively diving-focused, along with snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, and fishing (fly and spinning). Non-divers are welcome on intensive diving cruises, but fewer excursions will be provided.  For extra charges, a boat is available for 16 persons for two full days with two tank dives and for big game fishing with daytime and evening outings. Also, visits are made to resorts and local villages for Maldive Island culture.


Bring a dry bag for protecting cameras, cell phones, tablets, watches, etc. from salt water damage.

Along the Same Lines

While QuirkyCruise introduces the Maldives as a small-ship cruise destination with just one good example at present, many other operators serve the archipelago. Go to, click on “Where To Stay,” then “Liveaboards” to access a large selection.

Silhouette Cruises operates in the Seychelles, another archipelago located in the Indian Ocean closer to East Africa.


Deep Blue Holidays, Fila Bldg (07-10), Koli Umar Manik Goalhi, Male 20026, Maldives; phone: 00 960 330 2556,



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