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Avalon Waterways

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

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

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Visionary on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

COVID-19 UPDATE

Avalon Waterways will resume cruising in November 2020.

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

FLEET
Europe (Avalon Suite Ships)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Artistry II on the Rhine. * Photo: Avalon

Asia

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

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

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

South America

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

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

Egypt

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

Passenger Profile

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

Price

$$  Expensive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample Itineraries

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

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

Avalon Waterways

The Avalon Expression on the Danube. * Photo: Avalon

Why Go?

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

When to Go?

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

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

Sustainability Initiatives

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

Avalon Waterways

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

SHIPS 
Avalon Suite Ships (Europe)

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

Avalon Illumination

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

 

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

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

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

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

A 200 square-foot Panorama Suite. * Avalon Waterways

Avalon Siem Reap

Avalon Saigon

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

Avalon Saigon

The Avalon Saigon. * Photo: Avalon

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

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

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

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

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

Avalon Cruise, Mekong

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

Mekong River Cruise Adventure

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

Ganges Voyager

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

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

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

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

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

Ganges Voyager

Ganges Voyager. * Photo: Avalon

Ganges Voyager

Heritage Suite on Ganges Voyager. * Photo: Avalon Cruises

Treasure of Galapagos

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

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

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

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

Treasure of Galapagos

Treasure of Galapagos. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

Delphin III

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

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

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

Avalon Waterways

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

Avalon Waterways

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

MS Farah

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

Avalon Farah

The 120-passenger Farah. * Photo: Avalon

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

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

Avalon Waterways

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

TWS

 

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Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Six-Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

By Randy Mink.

Prehistoric-looking iguanas skittering across the sand. Playful sea lions frolicking in the waves. Giant tortoises you almost want to hop onto and ride. Snorkeling with sea turtles in blue-green water so pretty that you go crazy taking pictures.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Marine inguana. * Photo: Randy Mink

The Galapagos, far removed from the world we know, seem like another planet. Many of the strange creatures inhabiting this remote chain of volcanic islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, are found nowhere else on earth. Unafraid of humans, they don’t run, swim or fly away when you’re framing photos.

For snap-happy nature fans, the Galapagos are a fantasy-fulfilled, a bucket-list dream come true.

Indeed, my recent eco-adventure in this Pacific paradise, onboard the 16-passenger Sea Star Journey operated by Ecuador-based tour company Latin Trails, really was — pardon the cliche — the trip of a lifetime. Though landscapes on these parched, rock-strewn islands straddling the Equator are rather desolate and many of the animals not especially attractive, my memories of the Galapagos — and sharing one-of-a-kind experiences with my daughter — are etched in living color.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Sea Star Journey. * Photo: Randy Mink

Trip of a Lifetime for Most

A Galapagos cruise is not for everyone. Despite chances to sink your toes into beautiful flour-like sand, it’s not primarily a beach vacation. Only five of the 13 major islands have settlements, so there are few shopping opportunities. Shore excursions with your licensed naturalist guide follow a set path — you can’t go wandering off in this isolated kingdom populated by more than 100 threatened or endangered species of flora and fauna.

The passenger limit on cruise ships in the ecologically fragile Galapagos, a protected national park administered by Ecuador, is 100. Most ships, however, are yacht-like vessels that fall into the 12-to-20-passenger range, and though some, like our newly renovated, 137-foot Sea Star Journey, are quite deluxe, cruise travelers accustomed to larger ships may miss the variety of dining and entertainment options.

One thing is certain: a Galapagos trip has an air of exclusivity — and definite bragging rights. Also, a cruise at the comfort level that Americans expect is not cheap — figure to pay up to $1,000 per person per day.

Day 1: The Giant Tortoise

Reptiles dominate the animal scene in the Galapagos, and we encountered one of the most iconic — the giant tortoise — the first day of our six-day, five-night cruise.

Soon after arriving on the island of San Cristobal on a flight from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, we were shuttled on a national park bus to La Galapaguera, a breeding center for the largest species of tortoise in the world. Walking along a lava-rock trail, we saw several of these lumbering land tortoises vegetating in the grass, plus lots of babies in the “nursery” up the hill. The young stay at the reserve three or four years before being released into the wild.

Of the 1,710 tortoises on San Cristobal, 370 reside at La Galapaguera, with an estimated 15,000 in all the Galapagos islands. Thousands were killed for their meat by whalers in the 18th and 19th centuries. (Galapago is an old Spanish word for a saddle similar in shape to a tortoise shell.) The slow-moving giants exist only in the Galapagos and in smaller numbers on a few islands in the Indian Ocean.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

The famous tortoises. * Photo: Latin Trails Photo

After returning from La Galapaguera and before boarding our ship for the evening, we had 45 minutes to explore the sleepy San Cristobal town of Porto Baquerizo Moreno with its brightly colored buildings housing tour companies, dive shops and cafes. Here in the Galapagos Islands’ administrative capital and second-largest city (pop. 6,000), we watched Galapagos sea lions lounging on the rocks in the harbor, popped into the only souvenir shops we saw the whole trip (outside of the airports) and had our last chance to access the internet and cell phone service for five days. 😱😳

Marine Iguanas & More

At 7:45 the next morning, our group of 15 was ready to board the ship’s two dinghies (inflatable rafts called pangas) bound for a dry landing at Suarez Point on Espanola, the most southerly island in the Galapagos. (Our itinerary covered only the southeastern region of the archipelago.) These early-morning departures, with breakfast at 7:00, were designed to let us explore before the equatorial sun reached its height. Though we could feel the heat on Espanola, a cool breeze helped a bit and made it pleasant for hiking the rocky, unshaded paths, which were mostly flat except for two spots that called for a little uphill scrambling.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Dinghies. * Photo: Randy Mink

Most intriguing on this morning hike were the Galapagos marine iguanas, a species endemic to these islands and the only seagoing lizard in the world. (Of the archipelago’s 22 reptile species, 20 are found only here.) Unfazed by human visitors, the iguanas littered our path, requiring us to gingerly step around them. As our guide advised early on, national park rules restrict visitors from getting more than two meters (6½ feet) from the wildlife, but in many cases shortening that distance is unavoidable.

Most of the marine iguanas were black with specks of red and white, but a few sported a mating-season coloring of pale red and turquoise. We learned that they can stay underwater up to an hour. On land, their tails leave tell-tale impressions in the sand, like bicycle tracks.

Bird life on Suarez Point included Galapagos hawks, pelicans, Nazca boobies and nesting waved albatross. Espanola is home to nearly the entire world population of waved albatross, the largest seabird in the islands. Another highlight of our Suarez Point hike was the blowhole spurting water more than 200 feet high.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Nazca booby. * Photo: Randy Mink

We were back on the Sea Star Journey by 10:45 a.m. and greeted with what would become typical after time ashore — a hot towel and snacks, which might consist of juice, tea or hot chocolate and fruit, cookies or empanadas. After a noon lunch, we had a little time to rest and then were off to Gardner Bay and its long white coral-sand beach, also on the island of Espanola. It was here that my daughter filmed me being “chased” along the beach by a sea lion, a video later viewed all over social media (“run, Dad, run”).

From Day 1 the friendly sea lion became everyone’s favorite mammal. We never tired of watching them clamber on the rocks, body surf in the waves, roll in the sand and bark at each other. They even swam with us at the beach and on our snorkeling outings, the first of which took place around a rocky outcrop off Gardner Bay, where we also spotted rays, sharks and sea turtles in the gorgeous turquoise waters. (Though sea lions may seem playful, it’s best not to push it — they occasionally will attack a human.) All snorkeling equipment is included; wetsuit rental is $30 for the duration of the cruise.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Gardner Bay, Espanola Island. * Photo: Randy Mink Photo

Snorkeling, Hiking & Kayaking

On Floreana Island the next day we hiked and snorkeled at two locations. At Punta Cormorant, where we had a wet landing on powder-soft Flour Sand Beach, we spotted two Galapagos penguins, the most northerly penguins in the world and only species that lives in the tropics. Then we hiked to a brackish lagoon to look for Galapagos flamingos. (We found none but had better luck the next day on another island.)

The afternoon snorkeling session was one of our great memories as we got really close to Pacific green sea turtles, which weigh about 200 pounds and measure more than three feet long. One passenger with an underwater camera got fantastic pictures of the graceful reptiles, which can be found throughout the Galapagos archipelago.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

A sea turtle. * Photo: Latin Trails

Most of the time we felt as if we had the islands all to ourselves, though occasionally we crossed paths with other small groups or shared snorkeling sites. There were often three or four ships anchored near ours. (Enjoying the camaraderie of our tight-knit group, we wondered what the Galapagos experience would be like with ships carrying 100 people.)

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Writer Randy Mink. * Photo: Amanda Mink

Soon after the afternoon snorkeling session, we were taken in dinghies from the Sea Star Journey to a lagoon and boarded kayaks. Paddling past sea lions and pelicans, we made our way back to the ship in an hour, then met at 6:30 for the nightly briefing in the lounge. These get-togethers, orchestrated by our expert Ecuadorian guide, Hanzel Marcinetti, went over the next day’s schedule and focused on aspects of life in the Galapagos, sometimes with a PowerPoint presentation on a screen that dropped from the ceiling.

This night the topic was boobies — Nazca, blue-footed and red-footed. Though we saw plenty of the former two, our itinerary did not cover territory inhabited by the red-footed variety. (The feet of the blue-footed, we learned, get their color from the blue-green algae eaten by the fish they feed on.) Hanzel also showed us photos he had taken of sea turtles and of our group kayaking.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

The Lounge. * Photo: Randy Mink

As for the word “booby,” early Spanish sailors, unimpressed that the birds did not fly away from them, called the birds bobo (“stupid”). The reason that these and other Galapagos creatures roam without fear, unconcerned by the presence of visitors, is that there are few natural predators to threaten them.

Another night the talk centered on human history in the Galapagos, covering European explorers, whalers, buccaneers and a certain young Englishman named Charles Darwin, who visited four islands on a scientific expedition in 1835. Darwin’s notes from that trip, detailing differences between plants and animals on islands so close to each other, formed the foundation of his revolutionary theory that all species are always in a slow state of change and evolve to adapt to their physical surroundings. His conclusions, published in the groundbreaking On the Origins of Species (1859), would provide the basis of the modern theory of evolution.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Blue footed booby. * Photo: Randy Mink

More Iguanas + Blustering Frigate Birds

We got good looks at several subspecies of Galapagos land iguanas on Santa Fe and South Plazas islands. With spiny backs and a fearsome appearance, these harmless vegetarians are the most prehistoric-looking reptiles in the Galapagos. Mostly drab, though some are a golden yellow, they blend in with the landscape. Like marine iguanas, land iguanas are not afraid of people and will stay put for your picture. On Santa Fe, we spied some as we trudged up a bluff overlooking the sea, taking shade now and then under prickly pear cactus trees whose fruit and flowers provide food for the mini-monsters.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Land Iguana. * Photo: Latin Trails

On North Seymour Island the big attraction was the frigate birds perched in the bare trees. These are the seabirds whose males create a spectacle during mating season when they inflate their scarlet chest pouches to the size of a basketball. Though it wasn’t mating season, we saw some pretty big bulges, which our guide said was just a sign of machismo.

The frigate bird. * Photo: Latin Trails

International Passenger Mix

Besides communing with nature, we enjoyed this trip for the chance to socialize with fellow passengers from all corners of the world. Curiously, there were three dad-and-daughter groups in our contingent of 15. I was traveling with my daughter Amanda, a veterinarian. A man from New York City was with his college-daughter; they were doing back-to-back cruises on the Sea Star Journey. We also had two ladies from Western Australia accompanying their 83-year-old father on an extensive South America/Antarctica trip; he was a real trouper and made every hike, using a cane and getting support at times from crew members. Other delightful passengers included a couple of doctors — he an orthopedic surgeon, she a child psychologist — on their way home to Sheffield, England, after working a year in New Zealand.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Passengers. * Photo: Randy Mink

Cocktails & Dinner

We looked forward to meals and the cocktail-hour briefing, being able to share the day’s experiences uninterrupted by people staring at their cell phones. The lounge has a bar (drinks extra, cash only) and is separated from the three-table dining room by the buffet station. Also in this comfortable “living room,” decorated with framed photos of Galapagos wildlife, are Galapagos books and a TV for viewing DVDs. Making ourselves at home, we went around in bare or stocking feet.

All meals were buffet-style, and the wide selection of foods was impressive considering there were only 15 of us. For breakfast we could have made-to-order eggs, toast or rolls, hot and cold cereal, pancakes or French toast, sausage or bacon, and fresh fruits like pineapple and papaya. Lunch and dinner, which sometimes started with soup, usually included two or three meats or fish, three or four salads, and pasta, rice or potatoes.

Many dishes had Ecuadorian touches. The last lunch featured a whole roast suckling pig, the last dinner a whole turkey. Our favorite meal was an al fresco barbecue dinner in which the entire group gathered around the oval wooden table outside the lounge for a feast featuring grilled chicken, steak, tuna and sausage. To cap off the festive evening, sea lions and flying fish put on a show off the stern.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

The dining room. * Photo: Randy Mink

Roomy Cabins

Each of the Sea Star Journey’s eight generously sized cabins has a large bathroom with lots of counter space and a mirrored wall, air conditioning with individual controls, a mini-refrigerator, closet with safe, couch and two twin beds (or faux queen). Our Galapagos Suite (one of seven) measured 271 square feet, giving us more than enough elbow room. I liked all the little touches, from the bedside reading lights and silver, padded-fabric wall panels to the whimsical towel animals that would greet us after the room was made up. The ship’s largest cabin is the extra-spacious Sea Star Suite at 377 square feet.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Roomy cabin. * Photo: Latin Trails

Up the stairs from our suite was the partially covered sun deck, appointed with two hot tubs, cushioned loungers and wicker chairs, and a dryer for wet clothes. Our deck had its own patio with tables and chairs. The four cabins on the deck below us included small balconies, which were added in last fall’s massive renovation, a project that included new wooden flooring throughout, new showers and sinks in the bathrooms, new furniture and wall decor in the lounge, a redesigned kitchen and updated technology. Shipshape by any standard, Latin Trails’ Sea Star Journey (constructed in 2011) was named the Best Boutique Cruise in South America by the World Travel Awards in 2017.

The cheerful Ecuadorian crew of 12 was there to serve, taking good care of us from morning to night. I was especially impressed by the concern the captain and his men showed for our safety in getting us on and off the dinghies. Most crew members knew only a few words of English, but Hanzel spoke it fluently. A guide with 27 years’ experience and a resident of San Cristobal Island, he really made the trip with his knowledge of the plants and wildlife. The whole program, well-orchestrated and delivered on a professional level, translated into a carefree South American vacation.

Seemingly light years away from winter back home and the worries of the world, we reveled in an equatorial bubble for six days, easing into the routine of living on our very own luxury yacht, a congenial refuge where every detail was taken care of.

Each day brought new discoveries as we island-hopped around this living lab of biodiversity, a land of innocence suspended in time.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Life is good. The sun deck. * Photo: Latin Trails

Know Before You Go

➢Getting There: Flight time from the coastal city of Guayaquil, Ecuador to Baltra or San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands is about an hour and 20 minutes; from Quito (with 40-minute layover in Guayaquil) about 2½ hours total. We flew from Quito on Avianca Airlines. Airfares range from $150-$550, depending on season.

➢Cruise Fares: A six-day, five-night trip in a Galapagos Suite on the Sea Star Journey starts at $5,799 USD per person; a five-day, four-night trip is from $4,649 per person. Latin Trails operates the 90-foot, 16-passenger Seaman Journey catamaran at a different price point, with a five-day trip costing from $3,739. Fares include all excursions, but not drinks.

➢Money Matters: Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its official currency, which makes it easy for North American travelers. Bring plenty of cash as most businesses in the Galapagos do not accept credit cards. Everyone arriving in the islands must pay a $100 Galapagos National Park fee at the airport, but note that $100 bills are not accepted in the Galapagos. ATMs are available in the two largest towns. Cash is also needed on the cruise — for bar drinks, wetsuit rental and tips. On the Sea Star Journey, recommended gratuity for the guide is $10 per day per passenger, $25 or $30 for the entire crew per day per passenger.

➢Weather: The climate is subtropical, with temperatures well into the 80s during the warmest time of year, December through May, when the sea is at its calmest and rain is more likely. The cooler, drier low season lasts from June through November, with highs in the upper 70s or low 80s and a greater possibility of rough seas at some point.

➢Travel Tips: Bring plenty of sunscreen and apply it everywhere, including overlooked places like the tops of feet and ears. Also bring a wide-brim hat, and consider lightweight pants and long-sleeve shirts for further protection from the sun. For crouching down to take pictures, wear knee pads for protection from the rocks. We found that regular gym shoes are fine on the rocky trails, but hiking boots would be ideal. Be sure to drink only purified water from the water cooler in the ship’s lounge, not tap water. Though seas tend to be calm, bring seasickness medication just in case.

➢More Information: Go to www.latintrails.com or contact a travel agent.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Sea Lions — friends forever. * Photo: Latin Trails Photo

Quito Post-Cruise

To make the most of our adventure to Ecuador, we extended it with a two-night stay in the country’s capital city following the Galapagos Islands cruise. The Quito visit was arranged for us (and other Sea Star Journey passengers) by Latin Trails, the boutique tour outfit that operates the ship.

Our Quito home was, appropriately, a Latin Trails boutique property, the new Illa Experience Hotel. Located in the historic San Marcos neighborhood, it made a good base of operations for exploring colonial Old Town, with its cobbled streets, lively plazas and beautiful churches. Sitting at an elevation of 9,350 feet in the Andes Mountains, Quito is the second highest capital in the world (after La Paz, Bolivia) and has spring-like weather year-round.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Old Town Quito. * Photo: Latin Trails

Latin Trails’ small-group “Quito Six Senses Tour” tour (limited to seven people) kept us busy the first day with a mix of traditional sightseeing and hands-on experiences. We met with a master craftsman in his wood-carving shop and tried our hand at metalworking in La Ronda, a pedestrian zone with shops, restaurants and music clubs in postcard-perfect 17th-century houses with flower-decked balconies. At Pacardi, a chocolate cafe owned by a cacao producer, we donned chef hats and aprons in a truffle-making class. Then we stocked up on chocolate bars to bring home, choosing flavors like yucca, fig and Andean rose.

Luckily, we were touring Old Town on a Monday and got to see the weekly changing of the guard ceremony at the Presidential Palace. With a marching band, soldiers on horseback and speeches by political leaders from the balcony, it’s quite the patriotic spectacle. The most eye-popping historical site on our tour was La Compania de Jesus an ornate Baroque church bathed in tons of gold leaf.

The next day we shopped in New Town at the Artisanal Market, whose narrow lanes are crammed with vendor stalls selling brightly colored bowls and trays, wall hangings, tablecloths and blankets. We loved the electric pinks, yellows, oranges and turquoises. Also tempting were the silver jewelry, Panama hats, and alpaca gloves, hats, scarves and shawls. Similar wares were offered in stalls at nearby El Ejido Park.

Six Day Galapagos Islands Cruise

Shopping in the colorful Quito markets. * Photo: Randy Mink

The plush Illa Experience Hotel (www.illaexperiencehotel.com) opened in late December in a high-ceilinged building dating to the 1700s. It features 10 rooms on three floors, each floor decorated to mark a historical period — colonial, republican and contemporary. Top-hatted bellmen greet guests at the door, and stately touches like decorative brick arches and stone-like columns in the central courtyard also set the stage. Exquisitely appointed with fresh flowers, artwork and designer furnishings, the hotel has a sophisticated ambience and emphasizes personal attention.

To immerse guests in the culture of Ecuador, the Illa organizes a late-afternoon “experience” in the lobby. One day we learned how to make hot chocolate like grandmother did. Following tradition, we dropped in cubes of white cheese (eaten with a tiny spoon).

The hotel’s Nuema restaurant, a foodie favorite, showcases innovative Ecuadorian farm-to-table fare in a six-course tasting menu, and has its own herb garden and wine cellar. The dining room and rooftop bar offer grand views of El Panecillo, a hill dominated by the landmark Virgin of Quito statue. And the charming tourist sights of Old Town are just steps away.  🐦

 

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Overseas Adventure Travel

Here is a major travel firm that covers the world with land tours and many integrated with a cruise component, some as short as 3 nights and on up to 2 weeks and a bit more. Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) has been in business for over 40 years and is part of Grand Circle Travel, so there may be overlapping bookings from both sources. The multitude of O.A.T. itineraries are highly creative, and often they are cruises on ships taking between 16 and 210 passengers, many with land extensions, and land tours only. Here we cover a sampling of travel choices where a small ship cruise forms an integral part.

Overseas Adventure Travel

South China Seas sunset. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships

Because there are so many choices, numerous ships are involved, some owned by Grand Circle Cruise Line, others chartered by Grand Circle or Overseas Adventure Travel, and in two cases, ships that also carry passengers who are not booked through O.A.T. or Grand Circle. These are cruise tours that include the Chilean fjords and the Yangtze River portion of a much longer China/Tibet cruise tour.

Passenger Profile

Americans, mostly 50+ and active. Levels of activities are noted with every departure — most cruise tours rate 2 on a scale of 1 to 6, but overall they range from 1 to 4 in terms of level of how active they are. With every itinerary, there is additional specific information about the distance to be covered on foot, the presence of uneven surfaces, and if significant, the number of stairs to be climbed.

Price

$ to $$$ — A wide range of rates depends on the ship involved, with most moderately priced. Singles are well catered for, and often there is no single supplement, and if there is, it is a smallish extra charge. Passengers who wish to share can apply for a roommate. Every cruise tour has a chart that includes the availability of single accommodations.

Antarctica

250 foot tower of ice. Antarctica * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries

O.A.T. offers a huge range of small-ship cruises in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Middle East, Central and South America, Egypt, China and Antarctica. Groups of no more than 25 go ashore with separate guides. There are simply too many choices, especially in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, to list them all here. Where the ship is not specifically named, the number passengers carried is mentioned.

Sample Itineraries

Mediterranean: 16 days from Athens (Piraeus) to six Aegean Islands and Ephesus (Turkey); 16 days beginning in Zagreb to sail along the Croatian and Dalmatian Coasts, calling in at Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik, Kotor, a stop in Albania and onto the Corfu, Delphi and Athens  aboard Grand Circle’s 50-passenger ATHENA. Other regional itineraries include Portugal, Spain, France, Italy (including Sicily), Malta, Adriatic ports, and Cyprus. Groups of 22-25 go ashore with a licensed guide.

New 15-day cruise tour returns to Turkey, including Istanbul and the Turkish coast, the via the Dardanelles to the Greek Islands and Athens. 7 days is spent aboard the company-owned 50-passenger ATHENA.

Northern Europe: 15 days England, Wales (3 ports), Ireland, Northern Island, and Scotland (5 ports including three isles) aboard the 98-passenger CORINTHIAN operated by Grand Circle Cruise Line. Additional cruises feature the Baltic ports, north of Norway (using Hurtigruten coastal ships that generally exceed our 300 passenger limit) and Finland, and Iceland.

Egypt: 16-day cruise-tour includes Cairo and the Pyramids, a 7-night Nile cruise from Karnak to Aswan aboard the privately-chartered 75-passenger NEFERTITI. N.B. The day visit to Abu Simbel facing Lake Nasser involves a very early start and a four-hour bus ride in each direction. Participants have the option to remain in Aswan for the day.

Overseas Adventure Travel

Nile riverboat NEFERTITI takes 75 passengers. * Photo: Overseas Adventure Travel

Israel, Egypt & Jordan: 18-day land & cruise tour begins and ends in Israel with 7 nights aboard the 89-passenger CLIO operated by Grand Circle Cruise Line. The cruise leaves Israel (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Tiberias, Dead Sea) and sails for Egypt with calls that give access to Cairo and the pyramids, and after a Suez Canal transit, the Nile Valley (Karnak, Luxor) and Jordan, including Petra. Then return to Israel.

Panama: 12-day cruise tour of Panama, the country and the canal, including kayaking on Gatun Lake. Cruise transits the canal, taking 3 nights with stops along the way to view the canal operations, wildlife and local people, plus a land tour to visit indigenous people and Panama City. The privately-chartered catamaran 24-passenger M/S DISCOVERY is operated by Grand Circle Cruise Line.

South America: Itineraries with a cruise element include the Galapagos Islands, a 3- or 4-night cruise aboard an exclusively chartered 16-passenger yacht, plus Machu Picchu and Cusco; a 6-night Amazon and tributaries cruise aboard an exclusively chartered 24-passenger riverboat; and Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean fjords and glaciers aboard either the 100-passenger  STELLA AUSTRALIS or VENTUS AUSTRALIS shared with other passengers, while ashore with a guide it is no more than 25 O.A.T. passengers.

Overseas Adventure Tours

100-passenger VENTUS AUSTRALS. * Photo: Australis

Antarctica: 15-day cruise tour from Buenos Aires includes a 9-night expedition cruise aboard the company-owned 98-passenger CORINTHIAN sailing from Ushuaia.  Groups of no more than 22 passengers go ashore at landings along the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands.

China and Tibet: A 22-day land tour uses air, coach, train and a 3-night downstream Yangtze River cruise. Riverboat (various used) holds from 208-378 passengers, and O.A.T. group never exceeds 25 when going ashore. Itinerary includes Beijing, Xian and the terra cotta warriors, Chengdu (panda sanctuary), Wuhan, 3 nights in Lhasa, Tibet and finishes up in Hong Kong.

Note: New are women only departures, and those that include a small ship cruise component are to Argentina’s Patagonia region and a Chilean cruise aboard an Cuceros Australis ship, and another including the Galapagos and the Peruvian Amazon. .

Included Features

It varies as so many different types of trips are involved, but it is safe to say most meals (all on ships), excursions and most tips are included in fares.

Why Go?

Overseas Adventure Travel and Grand Circle Line are long-time professionals in the travel business, and if you (as an American) prefer traveling with your own country folk, then you have found your operator. The firms offer worldwide itineraries so someone who wants a one-stop shop, here it is.

When to Go?

All itineraries include the best time of the year to go, and also fringe season when the weather may be hot, rainy or cold. Check the climate averages for wherever and whenever you are thinking of going.

Cabins, Public Rooms, Dining, Activities & Entertainment

With so many different ships used, but most under control of O.A.T. or Grand Circle Travel and Grand Circle Cruise Line, the ships will be of a high, if not necessarily a luxurious standard.

Special Notes

The Overseas Adventure Travel website has an abundance of resources to help visualize and understand the part of the world in which you are interested. If you are anxious to know your ship’s reputation, just Google the ship’s name and add “reviews.”

Overseas Adventure Travel

Mekong River fish market, Vietnam. * Photo: Ted Scull

Along the Same Lines

Zegrahm Expeditions with its worldwide itineraries though with decidedly fewer departures.

Contact

Overseas Adventure Travel, 347 Congress Street, Boston, MA 02210; 800-955-1925 for new bookings & information; 800-221-0814 for existing bookings.

 

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Delfin Amazon Cruises

Introducing a boutique Amazon cruise line that operates small to moderate size, high-end Amazon riverboats based in Peru. They sail from one of two Peruvian ports and into a vast national reserve that is best reached and toured by boat, additionally with sections also seen on foot in the dry season.

Delfin Amazon Cruises

Delfin II. * Photo: Delfin Amazon Cruises

Delfin Amazon Cruises began operating in 2006 and expanded from one to three riverboats under the guidance of a husband and wife team with a background in international banking (him) and art, interior design and international travel (her).

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

DELFIN I (refurbished 2010, 12 passengers); DELFIN II (built 2009, 30p); DELFIN III (b. 2015 as Amazon Discovery, refitted, upgraded & renamed in 2017, 43p)

Delfin Amazon Cruises

Delfin I. * Photo: DELFIN Amazon Cruises

Passenger Decks

DELFIN I, II & III (three decks, no elevator)

Passenger Profile

Couples and families during school holidays. Languages: English and Spanish. It pays to be reasonably active to get in and out of skiffs, kayaks and to take hikes. Children accepted from age 7.

Price

$$ TO $$$ — DELFIN I is the most expensive while DELFIN II & DELFIN III have the same rates for two categories, and DELFIN III has two categories with lower rates. Singles pay a 50% supplement. Ages 7-11 receive a 20% discount.

Delfin Amazon Cruises

Delfin II. * Photo: Observation Lounge, Delfin Amazon Cruises

Itineraries

Cruises are 3 or 4 nights for all vessels. Most cruises leave from Nauta, a port about 1.5 hours from Iquitos airport, giving good access to the Pacaya Samira National Reserve. Some departures leave from Iquitos. See Activities for the daily details.

Delfin Amazon Cruises

The 3 & 4 night cruises sail on the Amazon between Iquitos and Nauta, in northeastern Peru. * Photo: Delfin Amazon Cruises

Included Features

Excursions, panchos and rubber boots, coffee, tea, water, beer on all boats; aboard DELFIN I,  most alcoholic drinks and wine with meals. Transfers between Iquitos and the riverboat landing for those who take the designated domestic flights. Recommended gratuities $120 pp.

Why Go?

The Amazon Basin in Peru is home to a very wide variety of animals, birds, and fish and complex rainforest vegetation and dramatic scenery. Most of the river expedition time is spent in the vast Pacaya Samira National Reserve with various means of seeing the wildlife in skiffs and kayaks and on foot. Cultural history is also worked into the program.

Amazon in Peru

Bora Village along Amazon in Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

Wet and dry seasons are much less pronounced in total rainfall figures than one would expect, given the river level’s enormous 23-foot rise and fall, making certain means of travel easier, harder or impossible depending on the conditions. The annual rainfall is 12 feet! November to May is the so-called flooded season with daytime high temperatures averaging 86F. June to October is the drier season with daytime highs averaging 98F. High water levels allow for more rainforest penetration using narrow creeks that would otherwise be inaccessible in the dry season. The latter allows for more terra firma walks and hikes, and fishing for piranhas will be much more likely to produce a catch.

Delfin Amazon Cruises

Fishing along the Amazon, Peru. * Photo: Delfin Amazon Cruises

Cabins

DELFIN I – 4 suites with 2 having a whirlpool, an extra berth, floor-to-ceiling openings to the outside. Wooden floor and decking. DELFIN II – 14 suites with 4 that interconnect for families. DELFIN III – 8 suites, 2 corner suites, 10 upper suites, owner’s suite.

Delfin Amazon Cruises

Delfin  III Suite. * Photo: Delfin River Cruises.

 

Delfin Amazon Cruises

Delfin I Deluxe Suite, WOW. * Photo: Delfin Amazon Cruises

Public Rooms

DELFIN I – Top deck enclosed lounge and an adjacent outdoor open bar and lounge, DVDs, Xbox (video games), rainforest reading materials. DELFIN II – Lounge that turns into a presentation room, media equipment, game tables, reading materials; open-air covered observation lounge, exercise room and spa.
DELFIN III – Top deck enclosed lounge and open lounge and bar, plunge pool, gym and spa. All three riverboats are decorated with Peruvian artwork and furnishings, and some items are available for purchase.

Dining

Food is a treat combining foreign imports with Amazonian fruits, vegetables and freshwater fish. Seating is open and mealtimes are set. The days often start early as it is cooler and the wildlife is stirring.

Delfin Amazon Cruises

Delfin I, dining area. * Photo: Delfin Amazon Cruises

Activities & Entertainment

Excursions will take place in 8-person skiffs, each with a naturalist guide aboard to follow Amazon tributaries and small creeks, and perhaps into a lagoon. Serious fishing is another popular activity with the catch including Amazon catfish, peacock bass and arapaima, and if successful, then released. Two-person kayaks (DELFIN I & DELFIN II), paddle boarding (DELFIN I only), and swimming with gentle pink river dolphins are additional water activities. Hiking is another way to see frogs, snakes, and birds, and if rain is forecast, rubber boots and ponchos are provided.

Occasionally night safaris on foot are offered to spot frogs, bats and black caiman. For those who can deal with heights and mild vertigo, a 1,580 foot (500 meter) wooden walkway can take you along at a level of 85 feet above ground to commune with what lives in the trees and even atop trees. Near Iquitos, a rescue and rehabilitation center takes care of endangered river otters, baby manatees and monkeys, some of whom were not well treated as pets.

On board after dark, the night stars are especially brilliant on the Peruvian Amazon.

Capybara, Peru's largest rodent. Amazon

Capybara, Peru’s largest rodent. *Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

While according to the line, malaria and yellow fever are not present, check with your country’s requirements if traveling to Peru’s Amazonia.

Along the Same Lines

There are many Amazon river operators and lots of price ranges, and this one is up there.

Delfin Amazon Cruises

Canopy Walk. * Photo: Delfin Amazon Cruises

Contact

Delfin Amazon Cruises, Av. Abelardo Quinones, KM5, San Juan Bautista, Iquitos, Peru; 1-844-4 DELFIN, delfinamazoncruises.com.

 

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The new Ventus Australis will look just like the Stella Australis. * Photo: Australis

The new Ventus Australis will look just like the Stella Australis. * Photo: Australis

Chile-based Australis is the only line doing regularly scheduled cruises in the waters of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego and they offer the voyages aboard their one ship, the 210-passenger STELLA AUSTRALIS. But that’s about to change. The expedition company that has been exploring South America’s southernmost channels for a quarter century, just announced they’re building a nearly identical sister ship named VENTUS AUSTRALIS to do similar cruises. Latin for “Southern Wind,” it’s being constructed in the Asenav shipyard in Chile and is set to debut in January 2018 offering 4- and 8-night programs exploring the stunning glaciers, narrow fjords and unspoiled landscape of southern Patagonia. A highlight is reaching Cape Horn island, the point where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans merge, and weather permitting, going ashore.

STELLA AUSTRALIS, built in 2010, does 3-, 4- and 7-night cruises that traverse the Magellan Strait, Beagle Channel and the waters surrounding Tierra del Fuego from the cities of Ushuaia, Argentina and Punta Arenas, Chile. Click here for more information on Australis and its cool cruises.

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