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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.

Price

$$ – $$$  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

Itineraries

  • 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.

Cabins

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.

Dining

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.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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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.

Price

$ 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.

Note

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, www.islandwindjammers.com.

— HMS

 

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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.

Price

$$

Itineraries

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

Cabins

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

Dining

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.

Contact

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

 

PollyPink

 

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G Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

G Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VARUNA (built 2006; 24 passengers) — Ganges

AMATISTA (built 1994; 30 passengers) – Amazon

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

2-3; no elevators.

Price

$ to $$, Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms & Dining

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Along the Same Lines

QuarkOne Ocean, Poseidon Adventures in the polar regions.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Quark Expeditions has been in business since 1991 offering lots of creative itineraries in the Polar Regions (Arctic, North Pole, & Antarctica) using a fleet of chartered ships including a pair of Russia’s finest icebreakers. The firm was the first with paying passengers to sail the complete Northeast Passage across the top of the Russian Arctic, and to make circumnavigations of the Arctic Ocean and Antarctic continent.

With the varied fleet, there is a wide price range to choose from based on from moderately-priced cabins that four can share on up to two-room suites for those who want maximum comforts when not ashore . The expedition teams come from a wide range of backgrounds, some with considerable longevity with Quark. Short biographies on Quark’s website introduce their experience and skills.

Passenger Profile

As long-established Quark is well known around the world, passengers come from North America, Australia, Britain and other parts of Europe.

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

The Fleet: With such a large number of ships involved, the individual vessel amenities vary considerably, and here we sketch the most important details. In addition to the ships listed below, the firm has ordered a new expedition ship taking up to 200 passengers. Special features will be four embarkation points for faster and smoother access to the 20 Zodiacs and two helidecks. Delivery is scheduled for 2020. In the meantime, Quark will charter the 2019-built World Explorer for its 2019-2020 Antarctic season

The Icebreakers

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: The world’s most powerful icebreaker, and nuclear-powered, was designed as a Russian scientific vessel in 2007 and more recently chartered for passenger expeditions. It is dedicated to summertime trips embarking in Murmansk, a major Russian naval port, and heads to 90 degrees north, equating to the North Pole.

The 6-deck ship takes up to 128 passengers in all outside cabins with private facilities designed for a staff and crew that spent months aboard, so desks and good storage are part of their functional design. There are two lounges with bars, one forward-facing, and a library with polar region references. The dining room seats all at one seating and all bar beverages are included. The food is continental, Eastern European and Russian. Amenities include a small salt-water pool, basketball and volleyball court, gym and sauna. Elevators connect four of the five passenger decks (not lowest with pool & sauna). A sightseeing helicopter, stabled in a hanger, takes off and lands from the aft open deck. A hot air balloon may follow, weather permitting.

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

** KAPITAN KHLEBNIKOV (not currently chartered): This Russian icebreaker has enjoyed longevity in the expedition world and specifically with Quark. Built in 1981 and converted for passenger use in 1992, the KHLEBNIKOV has made more Northwest Passage voyages than any other ship afloat, and from time to time, she reverts to her icebreaking duties. Expeditions include transits of both the Northeast and Northwest Passages and explorations of remote northeast Greenland. 51 outside cabins and suites are spread over four of the eight decks, and all passenger levels thankfully enjoy elevator access. The amenities include windows, desks and large closets as the ship was designed for long-term living. Four corner suites have windows facing forward and to the side, and three more cabins are forward-facing, all qualifying as true two-room accommodations with the lounge fitted with TV and DVD. The forward-facing lounge, bar, and library are semi-partitioned into three spaces, the auditorium screens films and hosts the lecture program carried out by the expedition staff. The dining room is divided into two sections with forward and side-facing windows. It’s open seating and the food is continental and Eastern European. On the lowest deck, a suite of rooms provides for a gym, sauna and heated plunge pool.

Expedition Ships

OCEAN NOVA: Built in Denmark in 1992 as a passenger vessel connecting Greenland’s coastal settlements, the ice-class (1B) OCEAN NOVA was subsequently lengthened and in 2006 converted to an expedition ship for passengers. Taking up to 78, she continues to operate in her familiar home territory as well as making circumnavigations of Spitsbergen. 38 outside cabins with windows are spread over just two decks, and all have windows, TV and DVD.

While the majority are twins, additional configurations also include six with upper and lower berths, three triples and two quads. The main lounge and separate library are located aft while the auditorium on the deck above is a new space where lectures are held and as well as serving as an observation lounge and bar with floor to ceiling port and starboard windows. The windowed midships dining room has enough seating for all and a large serving buffet for most meals. There is an exercise room but no elevator between decks. The ship carries a fleet of Zodiacs for inshore cruising, and offers hiking and snowshoeing, and kayaking (for a fee).

Elephant Seal ignores Ocean Nova, in Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Elephant Seal ignores Ocean Nova, in Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

OCEAN ADVENTURER (formerly SEA ADVENTURER): Built in 1972 in Yugoslavia as a passenger ship for the Russians, the OCEAN ADVENTURER was renamed and upgraded to its latest standards  in 2017 and has a 1A ice classification. In the summer, she cruises Greenland and Inuit Canada, Spitsbergen and nearby Franz Josef Land archipelago, occasionally including the North of Norway. Voyages include Zodiac cruising, hiking and snowshoeing, and for a fee, kayaking and overnight camping ashore.

In winter, the OCEAN ADVENTURER cruises Antarctica, including below the circle, the Falklands and South Georgia. Most trips offer kayaking and some camping, both optional extras. 128 passengers occupy moderate-size outside windowed or portholed cabins with private facilities, plus in the latest refit, six new twins and three suites. Most are twins, and six are triples. Eight cabins on Upper Deck face an enclosed side promenade, and with the deck’s lights kept on at night, shades need to be drawn. All cabins have TV and DVD player. There is NO elevator between the six decks. For a small ship three lounges are unusual. The main forward lounge with moderately good views is used for presentations, and on the same deck port side, the Clipper Club is a second quiet place to read and relax. The most attractive library with comfy seating is on the deck above. The dining room is all the way aft with the best tables for viewing at the stern. The food caters to the widely diverse nationalities. A small exercise room is located down on Main Deck.

OCEAN DIAMOND: Built in 1974 as a freighter, she was rebuilt into a very popular cruise ship in the mid-1980s and now carries 189 passengers on a winter Antarctica program, that on the longer trips, include the Falkands and South Georgia. The ship offers kayaking on all itineraries and camping on many as an optional extra. All cabins are outside, most of a good moderate size with either windows or portholes and TV and DVD. Singles have one double bed, twins either two beds or one double, and a few are fitted with an upper berth.

Public rooms tend to be aft with the exception of the forward observation lounge. The Upper Deck lounge is used for presentations and an aft facing bar is below. The main restaurant is on the lowest passenger deck and a special intimate dinner restaurant is just above. The food is of a high standard. An elevator serves all passenger decks. Additional amenities are a gym, massage and wellness program. The ship offers complimentary Zodiac cruises, snowshoeing and hiking, and for a fee, kayaking, cross-country skiing and mountaineering.

Ocean Diamond. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Ocean Diamond. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

OCEAN ENDEAVOUR: Completed in 1982 as one of a series of eight cruise-ferry -style ships for the Russians, she passed through a series of short-term owners before settling down as a 198-passenger expedition ship, here for Antarctic cruises and extensions to the Falklands and South Georgia. On most of these trips, the ship offers Zodiac cruises, hiking and snowshoeing as free options, and kayaking, cross-country skiing and mountaineering as paid options.

The cabins fall into 13 categories, most outside with windows or portholes and all with private facilities, radio and TV. Most rooms are twin-bedded, a few are sold as triples, and a block of inside cabins are used for single travelers. The top category faces forward over the bow. Lounges include the Meridian at the top of the ship, the aft-facing Aurora looking out to the pool, the intimate Compass Club, the Nautilus Lounge for presentations, and a small library. The large Polaris Restaurant is bracketed by large port and starboard windows with the food being mostly continental and Eastern European. Wine is complimentary with dinner.

Additional amenities are separate men’s and women’s saunas, and spa and gym. Elevators connect the three most important of the six passenger decks.

Ocean Endeavour passes under a chinstrap penguin rookery. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Ocean Endeavour passes under a chintrap penguin rookery. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

ISLAND SKY: Completed in 1989 as Renaissance VIII, this unit was the last of eight nearly identical boutique ships for now defunct Renaissance Cruises. She is used for the shorter Antarctica Peninsula cruises based in Ushuaia, and for those who would like to fly to and from Antarctica to join and leave the ship there without making the Drake Passage sea crossing.  Five decks have roomy cabin accommodations for 106, four on the highest deck having balconies, with eight more on the deck below. All have flatscreen TVs, DVD players, and private showers (no tub baths).

The middle deck has a narrow wraparound promenade, and an elevator connects all decks. The Club, one of two lounges has a connecting library, and on the deck below, the main lounge is used for presentations. The restaurant is located aft on the lowest deck with informal dining on the Lido Deck aft when the weather is suitable. High up on the Explorer Deck is the best location for forward viewing, and aft is a hair salon. The ship carries Zodiacs for local calm water excursions and for landing on the peninsula.

WORLD EXPLORER — A newly ship in 2019, she carries up to 172 passengers (limited to 140 for the Antarctic season). The cabin accommodation is all outside with either walk-out balconies or Juliet step-out platforms. This ship will handle some of the fly-cruise departures along with OCEAN ADVENTURER.

Note: ULTRAMARINE — A highly sophisticated new expedition ship is under construction in Croatia to begin cruising Antarctica for the 2020-2021 season. This will be the company’s first owned new-build. Passenger capacity will be 200 (6 are singles), two helicopters carried, with trips included in the fare, and a stern marina for launching the Zodiacs. In the Arctic, they will be used for sightseeing and accessing hiking and skiing locations. Other activities include Greenland camping, mountain biking and alpine kayaking.

Quark Expeditions

Preview of ULTRAMARINE in Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

 

Price

$$ to $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Itineraries
  • Antarctica Peninsula may be the sole destination on shorter expeditions (11 to 14 days), while long voyages may include the Falkland Islands, South Orkneys and South Georgia (20-23 days). On some Antarctic Peninsula cruises, passengers have the option of flying across the potentially-rough Drake Passage from Ushuaia, Argentina, and depending on the sailing, one or both ways (8-11 days). Those with more time, extend your stay add-ons to Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; Iguazu Falls, Argentina/Brazil or Easter Island, Pacific Ocean.
  • In the Arctic, Quark offers many departures that last from 9 to 14 that may include Norway above the Arctic Circle, Spitsbergen/Svalbard and Franz Josef Land, an archipelago, Greenland (all coasts), Arctic Inuit Canada, and the North Pole. For add-ons, consider Reykjavik, Iceland; Oslo or Helsinki.
Why Go?

Antarctica and the South Atlantic islands are playgrounds for animals and birds galore, visiting isolated settlements and research stations, seeing amazing ice formations and enjoying some of the world’s clearest air.

Curious penguins in Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Curious penguins in Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

The Arctic offers bird and animal life on land and in the sea, ice, glaciers and fjords, remote settlements, Viking ruins, and a possible voyage to the North Pole.

There is something out there, so getting ready. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

There is something out there, so getting ready. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

When to Go?

All expeditions are scheduled according to the regional climatic conditions, so the Arctic voyages take place from May through September while the Antarctic expeditions operate between between November and February.

Activities & Entertainment

Lectures and recaps presented by the expedition team are a daily part of life aboard, to prepare you for and answer questions about going ashore. The choice of activities in Antarctica has broadened considerably in the last few years, and while most options off the ship are included in the overall rates: Zodiac trips, snowshoeing and photography — some will cost extra such as camping, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, cross-country-skiing and mountaineering. Arctic voyages, depending on the specific itinerary, may feature Zodiac cruising, kayaking, hiking, and snowshoeing on some trips and extra cost hot air ballooning on treks to the North Pole.

Kayaking is available in both the Arctic and Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Kayaking is available in both the Arctic and Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Along the Same Lines: Look at other lines that concentrate on expedition-style cruising.

Contact: Quark Expeditions, 3131 Elliott Avenue, Suite 250, Seattle, WA 98121;  Quark Expeditions.com, USA 888-979-2061, UK 0.808.120.2333, Australia 800.812.855

TWS

UnCruise Adventures

UnCruise Adventures

Seattle-based UnCruise operates a fleet of nine expedition vessels taking from 22 to 90 passengers for those seeking adventure cruises in North America’s coastal, island and inland waters from Alaska south to Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, out amongst Hawaiian Islands, Costa Rica and Panama, and in the Galapagos Archipelago off Ecuador.

The American firm, with origins dating back to 1996, has the largest selection of small ship cruises in Alaska, varied enough for return exploratory voyages. UnCruise Adventures is a shared, unrushed experience. For those who like off-season travel, some Alaska itineraries begin in April as the state’s wildlife is waking up, and the spring months are generally drier than later on.

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

WILDERNESS ADVENTURER (b. 1984 & 60 passengers); WILDERNESS DISCOVERER (b. 1992 & 76 p); WILDERNESS EXPLORER (b. 1976 & 74 p); SAFARI ENDEAVOUR (b. 1983 & 84 p); SAFARI EXPLORER (b. 1988 & 36 p); SAFARI QUEST (b. 1992 & 22 p) and SAFARI VOYAGER (b. 1982/renovated 2015 & 64 p).

Replica Coastal Steamer: S.S. LEGACY (b. 1983 & 90 p).

For the LA PINTA (b.   & 48 pax), see Galapagos below. The fleet comparison chart  on the website is useful for what features one ship has that another may not such as single cabins and triples.

Safari Quest takes just 22 passengers.* Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Safari Quest takes just 22 passengers.* Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Passenger Profile

A varied lot spanning the ages who come for itineraries that combine popular and off-beat destinations. Cruises are as informal as they come, and the emphasis is outdoor activities and exploring, with activities designed for children. The Columbia-Snake cruises had always attracted generally older passengers for its specific slants on history, cultural traditions and scenery, though now with a big focus on active adventure, the passengers ages should go down. As all but one of these ships are American-flagged, and the crews hail from the US of A. The SAFARI VOYAGER is registered in St.Kitts.

Passenger Decks

3 or 4 and no elevators except for the S.S. LEGACY, connecting the three public decks.

Price
$$ – $$$

Weeklong cruises are typically upwards of $3,200 per person, and include shore excursions, booze and other perks. Some 7-night itineraries command twice that, while early spring dates (14 nights) may begin below $5,000. Peruse the lot to find the price you can afford.

Included Features

Shore excursions; use of the skiffs, kayaks and paddle boards; and non-alcoholic beverages. Spirits, wines and microbrews and a complimentary massage are included on all ships (though no massages on Safari Quest or SS Legacy).

Itineraries

Most cruises last 7 nights, and some Alaska cruises may be combined to create 14-night trips. Some cruises have special themes: marine biology, photography, storytellers, ornithology, craft beer, nostalgic music, wine, Alaska Insiders and a wellness cruise. Here’s the link to UnCruise’s theme offerings. 

The numerous cruising regions are:

Alaska

The 49th state is the line’s prime summer focus involving six ships and 13 different itineraries of 7 nights plus one 8-nighter April to September, in Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage embarking in Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Sitka. Beginning and end of season one-way repositioning 14-night voyages between Seattle and Juneau operate in April, August and September.

The emphasis is on avoiding the big cruise ship ports and offering outdoor boating activities in scenic coves and fjords, sea life watching, and Native American cultural life. Glacier Bay is on some itineraries. Some expeditions offer wet suit immersions.

UnCruise Adventures

Kayaking is a big part of the UnCruise ethos. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Land tours of 4- and 5-night may be added to include Denali National Park, Alaska Railroad, Kenai Fjords National Park, Anchorage, Seward, and Girdwood, a small mountain town near the Chugach Mountains. Activities featured are guided hikes, dogsled rides, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, river floats, and scenic train rides. Included features are hotels, meals, transfers between the vessel, hotels and airports, and baggage handling. Check out the land operator at Alaska Alpine Adventures.

Related: UnCruise in Alaska … by Judi Cohen.

Un-Cruise Adventures often spends a whole day in Glacier Bay seeing ice and animals close up.

Un-Cruise Adventures often spends a whole day in Glacier Bay seeing ice and animals close up. * Photo: Ted Scull

Columbia & Snake – OR & WA

From Portland covering almost one thousand round-trip miles along the Columbia and Snake Rivers as far inland as Idaho’s Hells Canyon. The 7-night Rivers of Adventure, running September-October, travel between Portland, OR and Clarkston, and includes an expedition team, kayaking, hiking on the Rowena Plateau, whitewater rafting on the Deschutes River and biking along the Columbia Gorge. Paddle boards and skiffs have been added to the activities.

The 7-night Rivers of Wine and Culinary cruises are offered in November 2018 and  September-November 2019 roundtrip from Portland aboard the 90-passenger S.S. LEGACY and showcasing famed Oregon and Washington State vineyards and produce.

Related: Rivers of Adventure on the Columbia & Snake Rivers  …  by John Roberts

The headwaters of Snake River navigation burrows deep into Idaho's Hells Canyon.

The headwaters of Snake River navigation burrows deep into Idaho’s Hells Canyon. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mexico’s Sea of Cortés

7-night cruises aboard the 84-passenger SAFARI ENDEAVOUR December 2019 to April 2020 and December 2020 to April 2021 leave from San José del Cabo to islands in the Sea of Cortés and coastal towns, along with hikes for viewing wildlife and landscapes, kayaking and snorkeling, and whale watching (January-March) via overland transfer to Magdalena Bay on the Pacific Coast.

Swim alongside sea lions and whale sharks in Bahia de la Paz dubbed the “aquarium of the world.” Take a mule ride into the arroyo with local rancheros. Stargazing and bioluminescence in the water at night.

Hawaiian Islands

From Hawaii (Big Island) or Moloka’i and including Maui and Lana’i. 7-night weekly departures July-August and November December 2019 and year-round in 2020 and 2021 aboard the 36-passenger SAFARI EXPLORER, for water sport activities in the world’s largest marine sanctuary, beach relaxation, searching for Great Pacific manta rays and humpback whales, viewing astounding landscapes and seascapes and taking in cultural activities.

Pacific Northwest – San Juan Islands, Puget Sound and Olympic National Park

Roundtrip from Seattle:

7 nights to the Olympic Peninsula’s mountain wilderness and San Juan Islands for attractive port towns, looking for sea life (seals, sea lions, orcas, whales), and enjoying waterborne activities (hiking, birding, kayaking, paddle boarding). Departures: 22-passenger SAFARI QUEST April-May and September-November 2019 & 2020.

7 nights to Victoria on Vancouver Island, the San Juan and Gulf Islands, exploring deep incisive inlets on the B.C. mainland, and wildlife watching. Departures: 22-passenger SAFARI QUEST April and September to November.

Friday Harbor in Washington's San Juan Islands is a favorite cruise stop when ships leave Seattle.

Friday Harbor in Washington’s San Juan Islands is a favorite cruise stop when Un-Cruise ships leave Seattle. * Photo: Ted Scull

Galapagos

7-night Galapagos cruise in the 48-passenger LA PINTA. Departures April-August & October 2012 & 2020. Optional add-ons: pre-cruise 4-night Amazon rainforest cruise in Ecuador or post-cruise 6-night Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Cusco & Guayaquil land extension.

Safari Voyage. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Safari Voyager. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Costa Rica  & Panama Canal

7 and 10 nights Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Panama with a canal transit and Colombia (one itinerary) and visits to islands and national wildlife parks, hiking, kayaking, paddle boards, skiffs, and snorkeling. Departures: 64-passenger SAFARI VOYAGER.  November-March.

Why Go?

The majestic nature of Alaska, the Columbia-Snake rivers, and the Hawaiian Islands are best seen from the decks of a small ship; the varieties of wildlife living in Alaska, Sea of Cortés, Galapagos and Central America; and the cultural connections in all the regions shared close up with less than 100 others (and often below 50) rather than amongst multiple thousands in the mega-ship ports.

When to Go?

The cruises are scheduled for the best weather times of the year, and the UnCruise brochure and website outline with easily understood bar charts the prime months for whale watching or enjoying the wild flowers in Mexico, and in Alaska, wildlife sightings and Northern Lights, plus the optimum driest and sunniest periods. For instance, in Alaska, spring means lots of newly-born animals, migrating birds and whales, lots of snow on the mountains, waterfalls at their peak with runoff, and the best chance to see the Aurora Borealis (other than in winter).

Cabins

The Wilderness prefix vessels have all outside, windowed and mostly small cabins with some double, but mostly queen and twin beds located on two or three decks, TV/DVD players, and iPod docking stations. The Safari-named offer queen, twin or king-size beds, TV/DVD players and iPod docking stations. Larger cabins have sitting areas and a few cabins come with French doors and step-out balconies.

The ENDEAVOUR adds a refrigerator to these cabins. The S.S. LEGACY has all outside cabins with view windows; queen, double or twin beds; TV/DVD players and iPod docking stations. The top two categories add refrigerators, and the 300 sq. ft. Owner’s Suite goes all the way with a separate bedroom and a large lounge with wet bar and media center for entertaining. it’s a wow for a small ship.

Captain-grade cabin on the Safari Quest. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Captain-grade cabin on the Safari Quest. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Public Rooms

The Wilderness- and Safari-prefixed ships have one forward lounge and a top deck sun lounge or covered area and a hot tub or sauna. S.S. LEGACY adds a second aft-facing bar-lounge.

Safari Voyager's Bar. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Safari Voyager’s Bar. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures.

Dining

All ships have a single open seating, with a window of time at breakfast and set times for the other meals. The food will be well prepared and reflect the cruising region. Lunches tend to be lighter fare—soups, salads and sandwiches. Occasional barbecues are set up on deck in good weather. Spirits, wine and microbrews are now complimentary at lunch and dinner aboard the entire fleet.

Klondike Dining Saloon. * Photo: Ted Scull

S.S. Legacy – Klondike Dining Saloon and aft lounge and embarkation access through the swinging doors. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment

All ships carry expedition teams who give (often illustrated) talks, some based on what the bow camera catches and the underwater hydrophone sees and hears. They organize adventures ashore, guided shore walks and rigorous hikes and explain use of the available craft such as kayaks, inflatable skiffs, and paddle boards.

The fleet has stern boarding platforms (now including S.S. LEGACY) with its Sea Dragon landing), and snorkeling is offered in short sessions, even in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, using a supplied wet suit. Note: The line’s website features a comprehensive fleet amenities chart showing what’s available on every vessel.

There are a number of theme cruises including photography, marine biology, ornithology and wellness where experts are on board to offer talks and guidance (see UnCruise’s website). All vessels also have fitness equipment, TV and DVD players in the lounge, and small book libraries.

Hiking in Baja California's Sea of Cortes. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Hiking in Baja California’s Sea of Cortes. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Special Notes

The UnCruise Adventures’ 148-page brochure is amazingly well-detailed in all aspects of their expedition business.

For adventure trips, UnCruise has a wide variety of price points and a fleet that includes 22- and 36-berth yachts, 60- to 84-berth small coastal-style ships, and a remarkably winsome Victorian atmosphere aboard the one-of-a-kind S.S. LEGACY. Private charters are available for all ships.

Along the Same Lines

Alaskan Dream Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions.

Related: Small-Ship Cruising with Alaskan Dream Cruises … by Lynn & Cele Seldon

Contact

UnCruise Adventures, 3826 18th Ave W, Seattle, WA 98119; US & Canada 888-862-8881; International (00) 800 12639888.

— TWS

 

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Lindblad Expeditions

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Lindblad Expeditions

Based in New York, Lindblad Expeditions has a long legacy dating back to Lars-Eric Lindblad’s pioneering expeditions to Antarctica, Easter Island and the Galapagos beginning in the mid-1960s. In the intervening years, the firm, under the leadership of his son, Sven-Olaf Lindblad, has expanded its fleet and ship charters to basically blanket the world for those in search of an adventure by sea. Destinations are expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica; natural history and wildlife cruises to the Galapagos, Indonesia and Borneo; cultural and historical voyages to the British Isles, Greek Isles and Morocco, revived cruise tours to Ancient Egypt — the list goes on and on.

The joint venture with the National Geographic Society established in 2004 expanded Lindblad’s passenger base and drew on the Society’s expertise; especially its photographers who enrich the pages of National Geographic magazine and National Geographic Traveler.  The relationship has expanded from itineraries in the US, Australia and New Zealand to Canada and Latin America.  As a four-time passenger I have always had the strong sense that the expedition and enrichment staff genuinely want to bring you absolutely the best experience possible. The large number on every voyage makes a huge difference in having them readily at hand when ashore or in Zodiacs and providing a rich variety of expertise.

Lindblad Expeditions

The N. G ENDURANCE represents the latest in Expedition ship design. * Rendering: Lindblad Expeditions

In January 2017, Lindblad took delivery of the 96-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR II to replace the long-serving N. G. ENDEAVOUR  in the Galapagos. Then in July 2017, a newly-built 100-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST became the first of two ordered ships to sail alongside the veterans N.G. SEA BIRD and N. G. SEA LION in Alaska, British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest and to reintroduce Belize itineraries.

The second, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE, l entered service in October 2018 on the U.S. west coast. Her seasonal itineraries will be in Baja, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. US-flag ships come from Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, near Seattle. Not stopping there, in mid-March 2018, Lindblad held a keel laying ceremony for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE (126 passengers) commencing construction at the Crist Shipyard in Gdynia, Poland. This Polar Class 5 rated ship is due to be delivered in the second quarter of 2020, and ENDURANCE recalls the name of Ernest Shackleton’s pioneering Antarctic expedition vessel.

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. ENDURANCE offers 13 two-room balcony suites. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

 

The ships vary from perhaps the best-equipped expedition ships afloat to the most nimble for poking around confined spaces, along narrow rivers and into tiny island coves. Here, we treat the ships one by one, to see what they offer and where they venture — some go all over and others stay in one region.

It is hard to beat Lindblad for its creative and professional approach to expedition cruising, so be prepared to pay for the high standards.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Explorer

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. EXPLORER. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (148 passengers & built 1982 as the rugged Norwegian coastal passenger and roll-on, roll-off ferry liner MIDNATSOL, enlarged for the same service 1989, and rebuilt into an expedition ship in 2008).

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers come on selected expeditions and so do families; Lindblad has a fine program for children, best in the Polar Regions and Galapagos.

Passenger Decks

6. An elevator serves all decks apart from B-Deck for Internet center, Mud Room and lockers.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to the crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (NGEX) covers more territory in one calendar year than any other in the fleet. In winter, the polar regions include Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia (along with N.G. ORION); in summer the Norwegian fjords, Arctic Norway, Svalbard, Iceland (including a circumnavigation), Greenland, Canadian Arctic and Canadian Maritimes; Fall down South America’s west coast from Peru south to Chile and Argentina (Patagonia) for another Antarctic season; and closing the circle, a spring return to Europe via the Atlantic Islands, Iberia and onto the British Isles and Ireland. Watch for new itineraries. One Iceland and Greenland itinerary includes flights over the latter’s remote glaciers as well as land and sea travel.

Why Go?

The NGEX is  one of the best equipped expedition ship afloat with a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks, as well as sophisticated equipment such as a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) for underwater exploration, hydrophone, underwater video camera, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore via Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor. On European itineraries, cultural experts and historians are aboard.

When to Go?

The ship ventures to various regions in the most suitable season such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter and the Arctic regions in summer.

Cabins

All cabins, of mostly moderate size (some larger suites), are outside, majority with windows, eight with portholes, and all thankfully have blackout curtains for 24-hour daylight sailings. Beds are queen-size, twins with some convertible to queens, and seven can take a third person at 50% reduction of the double occupancy rate; 13 have balconies. A nice extra is a World Atlas placed in cabins and open to the page you will be exploring. How about that for service?

Public Rooms

Main lounge (seats everyone) with bar equipped for films, slide shows and presentations; observation lounge on Bridge Deck with domed-roof and adjacent library; navigation bridge is generally open to passengers for meeting officers, learning about navigation and spotting wildlife; chart room for studying the region sailing to; fitness center, spa and sauna, Internet café.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is often another public room for the passengers.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is popular gathering place for  passengers, one of the delights of expedition cruising. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Single seating dining room forward and adjacent Bistro (same menu) has additional seating (some tables for two) in a more relaxed arrangement. Meals also offer buffet items at breakfast and lunch. The food is of good quality and well prepared, though that extra freshness may be lacking in remote regions. Lunch buffets also take place up in the domed observation lounge. Go for it; the view while eating is great!

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the excursions ashore and in Zodiacs accompanied by the expedition staff, sharing pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights — with underwater videos shot that day being shown, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the expedition staff. Unscheduled Zodiac excursions may occur when wildlife appears along the shore.

On Svalbard, for example, a polar bear may be spotted as a tiny speck on the ice, and passengers begin to gather, standing in total silence at the bow to watch the distance between the ship nosed into the pack ice and curious bear get ever shorter. I have seen polar bears walk up to the bow and sniff the smells we give off.

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during a cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen)

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during an expedition cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen) * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Orion

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia's Kimberley Coast.

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia’s remote Kimberley Coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ORION (102 passengers & built 2003 as ORION for Australian-based Orion Cruises, acquired by Lindblad in 2013 and underwent a major refit.

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers and families come on selected voyages. Given the cruising areas, now Antarctica and the South Pacific, expect some Europeans and Australians.

Passenger Decks

5 decks with an elevator connecting all but the Expedition Deck for the Mud Room, Zodiac boarding and Doctor’s Office.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

Winter in Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia from Ushuaia, Argentina (along with N.G. EXPLORER);  in spring, the NGOR heads first to Chile then across the South Pacific via Easter Island and Pitcairn Island for cruises to Tahiti and around French Polynesia. Also, in the summer in Alaska and along the Aleutian Islands to the Bering Sea, and the Russian Arctic and Russian Far East.

Why Go?

Here is a prime example of an expedition ship that excels for its comforts, style and travel adventure. The N.G. ORION is particularly well-equipped with a fleet of Zodiacs, kayaks, snorkeling gear, scuba diving gear for 24 passengers (on certain itineraries), a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), hydrophone, underwater video cameras, video microscope, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore and in Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor.

When to Go?

Itineraries are geared to the best season exploring a specific region such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter November to March, while the rest of the year most other cruising areas are in tropical waters.

Cabins

Roomy for a small ship and beautifully-designed and furnished; twin beds that convert to queens, all are outside, 19 with oval windows; 9 with balconies, some of which are small and some shared with neighbors (no partitions); flat-screen TV with DVD/CD player, mini-fridge, personal safe, Internet access for laptops, shower except 4 suites with bathtub. Third person pays 50% of double-occupancy rate in triple-bed cabins. 4 single cabins.

Public Rooms

Attractive main lounge with sit-up bar that seats all for talks and films; renovated observation lounge and library; open bridge policy makes the navigation center another well-used public room.

Orion: Lunchtime on deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Orion: Lunchtime on deck in Australia.
* Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Meals are served at one open seating in a restaurant with large-view windows; delightful outdoor café serves buffet breakfast and lunches, and barbecue dinners when the weather is warm. Food is very good and often connected to the cruising region.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the guided excursions ashore, including on foot and bicycles, and in Zodiacs, the evening pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights with a film of underwater videos shot that day, a recap of the day’s happenings, and the presentation by the expedition and the lecture staff of the plan for tomorrow. Small hot tub aft on Observation Deck. Fitness center, sauna and spa.

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard.

QuirkyCruise Review

National Geographic Endeavour II

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

This ship replaced the long-serving NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR  in early January 2017. The replacement started life as the VIA AUSTRALIS (b. 2005 & 136 passengers), and after major refit now carries just 96 passengers. The family friendly ship will has seven sets of connecting cabins and six triples, and for solo passengers, nine single cabins.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, with some other nationalities, and as Lindblad is well-prepared to handle children, families during the school holidays.

Passenger Decks

6 and no elevator.

Price

$$$   Super Pricey

What’s Included

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

If swimming with sea lions and sidestepping marine iguanas stretched out in the sun sounds intriguing, then think about a week’s small-ship adventure in Ecuador’s Galapagos Archipelago. Even wildlife names and antics are intriguing, such as blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance by lifting one foot, bending their wings and whistling. Days are spent on the water in Zodiacs, in the water snorkeling, and on land hiking with a trained naturalist guide.

                                                                                                                                                      Marine Iguanas. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

When to Go?

That requires a somewhat complex answer. The peak seasons, because of the school holidays, last from mid-June to early September and mid-December to mid-January. December through May, the water is warm for snorkeling and swimming but there will be fewer fish to see. Most days in the first months will see some rain.

The latter part of the season is spring mating time for animals and birds on land, especially sea lions and turtles, plus wild flowers in bloom. June through November brings on the colder waters of the Humboldt Current, therefore, more fish and sea birds are looking for prey, but snorkeling is going to be less comfortable and the ocean is rougher.

Cabins

56, all outside with windows or portholes on Main and A decks. Most cabins are smallish and have compact bathrooms with showers. Amenities are a small fridge and video player.

Public Rooms

Lounge with bar seats all passengers; separate library on the deck above; open bridge policy provides another room and fraternizing with the officers; spa, sauna and fitness center.

Dining

Restaurant is forward on Upper Deck with large view windows either side, and the food is of good quality with some local island ingredients, and Ecuadorian fish such as Wahoo and Dorado.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and the glass-bottom boat with guides and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera screened, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the naturalists. Small dip-in pool on Veranda Deck aft.

A newly introduced  activity is plein air drawing where a resident artist instructs passengers during regular sessions on board and shore to create images of the wildlife they see, and many are tame enough to pose for you. Look for the departure dates that include this activity.

Lindblad Expeditioins

Sea lion and pup in Galapagos Islands. National Geographic Islander in background. * Photo: David Vargas

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Naturalists that Lindblad hires are likely to be amongst the best available in a very active cruising area. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadorean.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Islander

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ISLANDER (48 passengers & built as the twin-hulled catamaran ISLANDER in 1995, first cruised in Scotland, and taken on by Lindblad in 2004 and renamed).

Passenger Profile

Largely Americans and some Europeans; varied ages and families at holiday periods.

Passenger Decks

4. No elevator.

Price

$$$  Super pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above, plus the advantage, for some, choosing a ship with half the number of passengers compared to N.G. ENDEAVOUR. Also see this ship above for “Why Go.”

When to Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above

Cabins

24 outside, mostly compact cabins on three decks, all with windows. Twins may be arranged as a double or as queen beds. Two cabins can accommodate a third person. Eight cabins on the Upper Deck have glassed-in terraces.

Public Rooms

Aft lounge seats all passengers for evening recaps, lectures and films; adjacent library and Internet Café, fitness center, covered seating aft on Upper Deck, open bridge policy.

Dining

Restaurant is aft on Bridge Deck with open seating for all to dine at one time. Food is average to good with some tasty Ecuadorian specialties.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and glass-bottom boat with guides, and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera shown, a look back at the recent happenings, and a plan for tomorrow by the naturalists. See additional Activities under the N.G. ENDEAVOUR.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadoran.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Quest & National Geographic Venture

Ship, Year Delivered + Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC  QUEST  (built in 2017 and 100 passengers); NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE followed in 2018.

Passenger Profile

Varies depending on the itinerary but mostly Americans, and some Europeans and Australians. Family during the school holidays, attracted by special programs and connecting cabins.

Passenger Decks

4 decks with an elevator serving all desks.

Price

$$$ – Very pricey

Included Features

All sightseeing excursions, Zodiac trips and kayaking, snorkeling gear, wet suits, non-alcoholic drinks..

Itineraries

The NG QUEST expedition ship offers many options, depending on the season and in brief they are: Alaska and Inside Passage (along B. C. coast at the beginning & end of season); Columbia and Snake rivers; Channel Islands off California; Baja California; along the Costa Rican coast and islands and Panama, including a canal transit; and Belize for the reefs, rivers and Mayan ruins.

NG VENTURE covers Alaska and B. C. coast; San Juan Islands; Channel Islands off California; and a long stint in Baja California and the Sea of Cortez.

Lindblad Expeditions

Skagway. * Photo:: C&V Bureau

Why Go?

The NG QUEST, completed in 2017, and NG VENTURE in 2018 have many of the latest features for an expedition vessel and a wide variety of destinations.

When to Go?

The itineraries are geared to the best season for visiting  the destinations.

Cabins

50 outside cabins(136 to 185 sq.ft., and 22 of these with step-out balconies). 6 cabins connect providing side-by-side accommodations for families.

Public Rooms

Large lounge for gathering before meals, including the day’s recap, lectures and videos, and leads out to a viewing platform; dining room aft with windows on three sides; gym and spa; open and partly covered sun deck; and open bridge policy, in effect providing another public room.

Dining

All dining is at one open seating, and the menus will reflect the wide-ranging itineraries.

Activities & Entertainment

While the so-called entertainment category includes presentations by the expedition staff before and after dinner and time at sea; the activities ashore will vary according to the specific itinerary; equipment available includes 10-12 passenger landing craft embarked from two landing platforms and 24 sea kayaks and a fleet of paddelboats; remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for exploring the sea beneath the ship and bringing back images; bow camera, underwater camera, hydrophone for collecting sounds that sea creatures make, video microscope, kayaks, wet suits and snorkeling equipment.

Special Notes

This pair was built by Nichols Brothers, Whidbey Island, Washington, the same yard that completed the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD. They fly the US flag hence they can sail on domestic itineraries without having to call at a foreign port, although the pair does venture south to Mexico and Central America.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Sea Lion & Sea Bird

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD (62 passengers & built 1981, later upgraded and reduction in passenger capacity by eliminating lowest-deck cabins.

Most recently with the arrival of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST and NG VENTURE the old pair were further refitted with newly redecorated interiors for the lounge and bar, dining room and cabins. They carry sea kayaks, a fleet of paddleboats, video microscope, hydrophone and bow camera.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, generally 50+ and few families on the Columbia-Snake itineraries, and more likely on the other trips, especially during school holidays.

Passenger Decks

3 and no elevator

Price

$$ Expensive but less pricey than the two new US flag vessels.

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries
  • Southeast Alaska cruises between Juneau and Sitka.
  • One-way positioning cruises early May and early September between Seattle via the Inside Passage along the British Columbia coast, calling at Haida Gwaii (island) and into Southeast Alaska.
  • Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean coast of Baja California for serious whale watching. In the height of whale watching season — gray and hopefully sperm, blue and fin whales in the lagoons along the Pacific Coast, and the islands in the Sea of Cortez.
  • Channel Islands and Santa Catalina from Los Angeles for the beach life, hiking, sea kayaking, paddle boarding and meditation sessions.

Intense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted ScullIntense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

Every itinerary has its numerous attractions. Alaska: glaciers, fjords, wildlife on land and sea and with the grandeur of Glacier Bay National the highlight, especially enjoyed on such a small ship; Baja California on both coasts for the varieties of birds; snorkeling among sea lions; coastal and island hikes.

Both vessels are about as simple as any small ships get, a bit pokey, past their prime, yet well maintained with excellent expedition staffs. So forget any thought of luxury and go for the wonderful experience. The Columbia-Snake rivers route was my first soft-adventure by ship – the Sea Lion, some 30 years ago.

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

The two ships are positioned where the weather is best for expedition and soft adventure activities, so there are no cautions needed.

Cabins

Small and all outside with view windows, some twins may be converted to a double bed, and a few can take a third person at 50% of the double occupancy rate. Cabins on Bridge and Upper decks open onto a side promenade, while Main Deck cabins are accessed from a central corridor. These latter six cabins are also adjacent to the dining room, therefore a convenient, but also trafficked corridor.

Public Rooms

A single forward observation lounge with a bar; forward outdoor open observation deck and partly covered Bridge Deck. Spa and exercise equipment.

Dining

Food is good with buffet at breakfast, family-style service at lunch and served dinners.

Activities & Entertainment

Evening recaps of the day; plans for the day ahead and talks (some illustrated) by the naturalist staff using results of underwater video and video microscope. Depending on the itinerary, kayaking, snorkeling (with wet suits in Baja), and expedition landing craft for going ashore on hikes.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard on in Baja and Costa Rica/Panama and an undersea specialist in Alaska and Baja.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

And In Brief — Partial Year Ship Charters

Sea Cloud
SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

Lindblad charters the 64-passenger SEA CLOUD ($$$), a legendary sailing vessel built in Germany as a private yacht in 1931 and converted to a cruise vessel in 1979. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to sail in her —  in the Mediterranean, the Greek islands from Piraeus (Athens); along the Greek and Dalmatian coasts between Piraeus (Athens) and Dubrovnik; and Sicily and Malta.

The best, and the most expensive cabins, are the beautifully furnished eight originals on Main Deck when the Sea Cloud was E.F. Hutton’s private yacht built for his wife, Marjorie Meriweather Post (cereal heiress). The added cabins are modern, very attractively fitted and considerably less expensive, though not cheap. The main lounge is beautifully paneled and with parquet floors. Food and service are great, and some meals are taken out on deck. The Caribbean offers just the occasional one-week cruise from Barbados in winter.

Delfin II

Lindblad has chartered the Amazon riverboat DEFLIN II ($$$) since 2010 taking 28 passengers in 14 luxurious cabins on one-week cruises along two of the river’s upper tributaries. The riverboat has an enclosed lounge, an open lounge and bar under a top deck canopy. The dining saloon is the deck below with big windows facing aft, and the food is quite special and sometimes exotically sourced from the rain forest.

The cabins, with a desk and chair, are lovely with wood trim, wooden floors, large view windows, twin beds that can form kings; and two suites have king-size beds only. Some can be interconnected for families, and four face forward with terrific views. Bathrooms are roomy. Excursions ashore are made in 10-person skiffs and kayaks, plus some walking where paths exist.

A national reserve in remote Amazonia is the highlight, looking out for exotic bird species, monkeys and anacondas of the rain forest, and pink and gray dolphins, piranhas and red-eyed caiman in the dark waters, sometimes decorated with giant water lilies. Cruises operate year-round except April and September.

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Jahan

The more than comfortable 48-passenger riverboat JAHAN ($$$) cruises the Mekong between Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Cambodia and My Tho (near Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City) on 15-day cruise-tours from January to March. The famous temple complex, Cambodia’s capital at Phnom Penh, and the teeming life along the river are the highlights.

Harmon V  (Note: This ship is not currently operating.)

This chartered 46-passenger ship, with stabilizers, will take 46 passengers in all outside cabins with windows on 11-day cruise tours beginning in December and running through March. Days 1-3 are spent in Havana then 4-11 on board the ship calling at the colonial cities of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, located on Cuba’s south coast, Islas de la Juventud and the Bay of Pigs where a failed U.S. invasion took place in 1961.

First New Ice-Class Polar Vessel

Lindblad’s building its first ocean-going ice-class polar vessel, a 126-passenger ship with the distinctive X-BOW to provide fuel efficiency and significantly improve passenger comfort in rough seas. Delivery for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE is planned for early 2020.

Lord of the Glens
Lindblad Expeditions

Crinan Canal, Scotland. * Photo: Ted Scull

A Scottish 48-passenger, 4-deck vessel with 52 outside cabins makes 9-day canal, loch and island itineraries in June, July and August between Kyle of Lochalsh (across from the Isle of Skye) and Inverness. The route calls for stops on Skye, Eigg or Rhum, Iona, Oban, Loch Linnhe, Glenfinnan Viaduct, Neptune’s Steps (flight of locks) in the Caledonian Canal, then passing through Loch Ness to Inverness, thus having crossed the Scottish mainland to just short of the North Sea.

Note: For a fuller account of the ship and its itinerary, go to the ship’s owner, Magna Carta Steamship Company.

Oberoi Philae

The newly-rebuilt Nile riverboat with enlarged accommodations for 42 in 22 cabins and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows, including four suites, has two restaurants with one on the Sun Deck, and several lounges. 13-day cruise tours will operate between January and March and September to December.

The land portion begins in Cairo for the museum, Coptic churches in Old Cairo and Ben Ezra synagogue before flying south to Luxor and boarding the 6-day cruise that give access to the temple at Luxor and Karnak, a felucca sail, Valley of the Kings, Edfu, Kom Ombo and the island temple at Philae on the far side of the Aswan High Dam. After visiting the temple at Abu Simbel, fly back to Cairo to stay at the Mena House (the original and now much enlarged hotel adjacent to the Pyramids at Giza), plus step pyramid at Saqqara. A five-day extension is available to Jordan.

Contact

Lindblad Expeditions, 96 Morton Street, New York, NY 10014; 800-397-3348 or 212-265-3770.

TWS

 

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Crystal's Fun New River Excursions

By Anne Kalosh.

Canoeing through the romantic canals of Strasbourg, hands-on instruction in Linzer torte baking, Budapest by Trabant (the notorious East German-manufactured car).

These and many more curated experiences are among Crystal River Cruises’ new excursions for voyages along the Danube, Rhine and Main. All focus on authenticity and are tailored to individual interests, featuring smaller group sizes and distinctive touches.

Nearly 200 excursions are included, with additional pursuits available at a cost.

Crystal's Fun New River Excursions

Crystal Bach on the Danube. * Photo : Crystal River Cruises

Many destinations offer more than a dozen choices. Some of the new included adventures are an owner-hosted tasting at Schlagkamp Winery in Cochem, biking to Veitshochheim Castle and its Rococo Garden in Wurzburg, and a behind-the-scenes tour of Amsterdam’s greenhouses, where the famous tulips are cultivated.

Among the other included choices are a culinary experience in the foodie haven of Rotterdam, a string and opera performance in a historic Antwerp cathedral, a full day exploring Salzburg from Linz, and a horse show and carriage ride at Lázár Equestrian Park.

Dozens of optional (extra charge) experiences include a vintage photography adventure in Vukovar, a private home cooking lesson in Kehl, and wine tasting in the renowned cellars of Vienna’s Palais Coburg.

Other optional experiences are hands-on creativity in one of Novi Sad’s last remaining tapestry workshops and horseback riding through the forests of Novi Sad’s Fruška Gora National Park.

The Linzer torte baking, canoeing through Strasbourg and Budapest by Trabant are among the extra-charge offerings.

Crystal’s excursion group sizes are limited to 15 people; for larger groups, guides are available to lead the tours in German, Spanish, Portuguese and other languages, on request.

 

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Windstar Alaska Cruises

By Anne Kalosh.

Windstar Cruises, which is returning to Alaska for the first time in two decades, starting in May, is shaping a new expedition program for the Great Land.

It’s called Signature Expeditions, featuring small-group hikes and watercraft tours that leave directly from the ship by tender or water sports platform. Zodiac excursions will take participants along the shoreline for wildlife viewing, and kayaks will let them explore intertidal zones, getting up close to magnificent glaciers and, perhaps, sea lions and whales.

Windstar Alaska Cruises

Windstar Signature Expeditions logo

Signature Expeditions will delve into special places like Kenai Fjord, Misty Fjords, Tracy Arm/Endicott Arm and the Inian Islands of Icy Strait, weather permitting.

For example, on a 2.5-hour kayak expedition through Misty Fjords National Monument, participants will see 3,000-foot glacier-sculpted cliffs with numerous cascading waterfalls, wildlife like bald eagles and, perhaps, brown and/or black bears and mountain goats.

On a Zodiac tour around Kenai Fjords National Park, travelers will glide past tidewater glaciers that flow from the Harding Ice Field, and possibly see a glacier calving. Taking in the spectacular scenery of the area, they also may spot harbor seals, black bears on the beach, bald eagles and puffins.

On a hike from Wrangell, participants will be following in the footsteps of John Muir, who used Wrangell as headquarters for his Stikine delta explorations. An immersive forest experience and wonderful views of the surrounding mountains, the town and waterways below are in store.

Like optional shore excursions, these adventures will be available for a fee: $40 for hikes, $170 for kayak tours and $150 for Zodiac tours.

Each hike and watercraft adventure will be led by an expedition team member, consisting of experts like marine biologists, geologists and glaciologists. Every Alaska cruise will carry a seasoned five-member expedition team who’ll also lecture and give presentations on board.

They’ve been hand-picked by James Griffiths, a veteran captain who’s been appointed to a new position as expedition captain, overseeing the Signature Expeditions program. Griffiths joined the line in 2014 as master of WIND SPIRIT. Before that he worked for many years in the expedition travel sector, operating ships at senior management levels in some of the most remote areas of the world.

Windstar Alaska Cruises

Capt. James Griffiths is leading the new Signature Expeditions program. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Griffiths served as captain of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER and senior master of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ORION during its maiden Antarctica season. He also sailed aboard some of the best known passenger ships, including 11 years with Cunard where, at 25, he was appointed chief officer on QUEEN MARY 2.

Griffiths was made captain of the 212-passenger STAR LEGEND during its 2015 inaugural season. This is the ship that will operate the Alaska sailings into early September. Signature Expeditions will be featured on all the 11- to 14-days cruises, which from Seward and Vancouver, B.C.

Windstar plans to expand the Signature Expeditions program to other cruising regions.

Windstar Alaska Cruises

Star Legend will operate Windstar’s first Alaska program in two decades. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

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Serenity at the bow, heading north to Alaska

By Ted Scull.

Over the years, I have made six trips to Alaska, five of them by ship and one by car. The waterborne voyages north to Alaska have been via a large cruise ship, twice by the Alaska Marine Highway and twice by small ships taking less than 100 passengers. The Inside Passage en route to the 49th state is a scenic wonder, bracketed by steep cliffs, high mountains snowcapped most of the year, narrow waterways providing deep routes into the interior, and isolated settlements, for some, the only access may be by boat. The scenery on the voyage north may be appreciated from any size ship. However, enjoying the sight of wildlife in the sea and on land is altogether another matter once you are in Alaska.

Serenity at the bow, heading north to Alaska

Serenity at the bow, heading north to Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

The benefits of taking a small ship cruise in Alaska are pretty overwhelming, but decide for yourself if small trumps big:

WILDLIFE

  • Whales and dolphins are likely in these waters, and the big ships must stay well away from a pod of whales, while a small ship, much less threatening and more maneuverable, can quietly move closer allowing passengers standing one or two decks above the sea to observe them at close range without disturbing them. Dolphins may follow just off the bow and you can often look straight down at them.
  • A small ship’s itinerary is usually more relaxed, so the captain has more time allowed for finding wildlife and staying with it.
  • When wildlife is spotted ashore, small ships with shallow drafts can edge up to slumbering sea lions lounging along the shoreline, while a deeper draft ship has to remain well away.
  • Such proximity provides a major thrill and small groups can more easily keep the silence allowing an undisturbed observance of sea lions interacting with each other. Bears are another sight to watch out for from the decks of a small ship.
  • I have been able to get great pictures without a telephoto lens.

Close up to lounging sea lions at the entrance to Glacier Bay. * Photo: Ted Scull

GLACIERS

  • Some Alaskan glaciers are located at the far end of narrow fjords, hence big ships can sail up only so close and still be able to turn around.
  • A small ship has much more room to maneuver, and if a large piece of glacial ice should calve, you will feel the wave that it creates.
  • In Glacier Bay, mornings are set aside for the large ships, and the number each day is limited, while the small ships have the morning to get close to wildlife near the entrance to Glacier Bay and maybe sail into a narrow bay where more wildlife is located.
  • Then in the afternoon, they have the glaciers to themselves or perhaps with another small ship.
  • Captains often speak to each other so they choose not to follow exactly the same itinerary. In addition, they may exchange wildlife information.

Close to Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay. * Photo: Ted Scull

PORTS

  • Some Alaskan towns have just a few thousand inhabitants, some even less, so a massive cruise ship may have a larger population aboard than ashore.
  • Either the passengers and crew inundate the town or simply do not call at all, while one with just 50 to 100 on board will be able to go ashore, more easily blend in, meet people on the street, and if a performance is planned, see it at a local meeting hall, gym or theater.
  • When visiting Petersburg, Alaska with strong Norwegian ties a couple of years ago, for instance, the locals demonstrated their culture using ancestral musical instruments and dancing. The town is also one of the richest fishing ports in the world, and its citizens are proud to describe their life at sea and fleet maintenance. It was easily done with a small group and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
  • From a small ship, you may be able to go directly into the ship’s own Zodiacs for a wildlife excursion to a nearby island or to a landing almost anywhere for a hike ashore, no docking facilities needed. The big ships on the other hand will probably have you join a local land operator who first has to get you to the wildlife site by bus.
  • Both large and small ships call at tiny Skagway, for example, and there’s no avoiding the tourist crowds in the streets, though other parts of the visit will feel saner for small ship cruisers. On the Yukon and White Pass trains, the small ships offer a single reserved coach for its passengers, and similarly, other excursions won’t entail mustering groups of hundreds.

Peaceful evening port call at Glacier Bay Lodge. * Photo: Ted Scull

ONBOARD LECTURES & ACTIVITES

  • The National Park Service is often hired by the cruise line to come aboard, give a talk or be out on deck to identify wildlife and answer questions. On a big ship, the commentary may have to be given over a loud speaker while on a small vessel, passengers gather round and have a personal chat.
  • The small ships will also often carry their own naturalist staff who are also available throughout the day.
  • If the weather turns nasty keeping you inside, the big ships will have many more on board diversions such as bars, musical entertainment, movies, shopping, gym, spa and where permitted, casino gambling.
  • The small ships offer solitude: a naturalist lecture, film, maybe a small gym and spa and perhaps the best chance you will ever get to read that book that has been sitting by your bedside.

Up close and personal with a National Park Service guide. * Photo: Ted Scull

COST

  • While the big ships usually have cheaper fares, shore tours are extra and can be quite expensive in Alaska, while many small ships have excursions included in the fare and that helps narrow the gap. They may also offer optional trips, such as flightseeing, for a charge.
  • There is no question that the big ships offering economies of scale, and with 2,000-5,000 passengers, they can charge less than a ship carrying just one hundred or fewer. If considering both, make sure you compare what is included up front to give you a fair appraisal.

While Alaska on any size vessel is a supremely worthwhile trip, we’re personally besotted with seeing Alaska on a small ship. Whatever you choose, happy cruising!

Free to join the first mate in the wheelhouse. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

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Celebrity Flora in the Galapagos affords views of marine iguanas

Celebrity Xpedition

By Jai Vir (age 11).

What do you think about when you hear the name Galápagos? I think about the most beautiful, extraordinary islands in which evolution was first theorized, and also where I spent a very enjoyable vacation. When you first arrive, on the island of either Baltra or San Cristóbal, you will step out onto the tarmac of a barren, desolate landscape.

What you don’t realize is that many of the best parts of this volcanic archipelago are underwater, such as sharks, seals, sea lions and fish, brought by the cold Humboldt Current. If you are lucky, you might even be able to spy a Hawaiian Sunfish leisurely drifting through the ocean.

small ship cruises to the Galapagos

Check out this turtle gliding through the sea! * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

One night, while I was walking through the ship and exploring its numerous staircases and hallways, I was curious as I saw two seals jump aboard the back of our ship, the Celebrity Xpedition. Then I looked closer, amazed at what I saw. I could not believe my eyes. There was a school of about twenty 10-foot sharks just swimming, right behind our ship.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A few days after during a snorkeling expedition, we saw a shark, many sea turtles, beautiful fish, and a few sea lions that frolicked in the surf.

An adorable sea lion. * Photo: Jai Vir

On the down side, when on an excursion to the island of Fernandina, my family grew sick of seeing every possible iguana (dead or alive) in the Galápagos. There were mountains of them, just basking in the sun, like you could step on them. Others were swimming, and others still were nothing but carcasses slowly rotting away while a heavy flesh-like smell hung in the salty sea air.

My favorite island was one which I don’t know the name of. We were not allowed to go ashore because of high waves, but we went for a little cruise in zodiacs around some mangrove islands in close proximity to the main island. I saw sharks, sea lions, turtles, stingrays, and many birds while on the mini-island excursion.

Galapagos turtles are BIG! * Photo: Jai Vir

I also loved the island of Floreana, because there were flamingos and stingrays. My favorite animal has to be the nazca booby. I managed to capture a photo of two nazca boobies doing a mating dance in which the male hopped on the female’s back! It was hilarious. Our stay on the cruise was fantastic. There were fun activities such as crosswords, fantastic food like ceviche (mixed seafood), and many excursions.

The nazca boobies have interesting mating rituals. * Photo: Jai Vir

The one thing that was not appealing to me was not having a big boat. Even though the Celebrity Xpedition is the biggest boat allowed in Galápagos, there was still a fair amount of rocking in harmony with the waves. At least nobody threw up! (Except for my sister.)

Otherwise, the Galápagos islands make for a truly beautiful getaway fit for children and adults.

The sleek Celebrity Xpedition is the largest ship in the Galapagos. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises

QuirkyCruise Review

Fond Memories of Lava, Iguanas, Sharks & Sea Lions

by Kimaya (age 8).

For a school essay, Jai Vir’s sister Kimaya describes her favorite memories of the Galapagos cruise.

small ships cruises to the galapagos

School essay about Galapagos cruise, page 1

small ship cruises in the galapagos

School essay about Galapagos cruise, page 2

 

Jai Vir and Kimaya are from California and have done some pretty cool trips with their family.

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QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer

Mala from the USA.

Cruise Line

Celebrity Cruises.

Ship

Celebrity Xpedition.

Destination

The Galapagos Islands.

# of Nights

7.

Departure Date & Ports

February 7, 2016, round-trip from Balta Island, Galapagos.

OVERALL RATING

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

Have you been on a small ship cruise before?

This was my first.

Review

A ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience.

Be prepared for a very different cruise experience. Most of the islands are very rugged and uninhabited. The only way to visit them is via rubber Zodiac rafts. Some landings were “dry” where we could step directly onto the lava rocks. Others were wet where we jumped into the surf at a beach. The contrast between the remoteness of the islands and the luxury of the ship was quite striking.

The most interesting thing about the animals in the Galapagos is how tame they are. Not having lived around humans or other predators, they will allow you to get within touching distance. Of course you also get a tremendous appreciation of the power of evolution by observing iguanas that have learned to swim and live off underwater algae or cormorants that have lost the power of flight.

The naturalists were very knowledgeable and we were given a good briefing about each island prior to visiting it. We really liked these presentations as they helped us look out for various highlights and helped identify the flora and fauna. There were daily hikes which enabled us to appreciate the variety and differences between the islands.

We traveled as a family of 4 (kids ages 8 & 10) and were the only family with kids. Most people were retired, and the average age was probably 60+. I believe there are more children June-Aug. If someone is traveling with kids, it would be a good idea to plan it with family or friends.

The suites have a 3-person maximum occupancy, so a family of 4 would need to get two cabins or suites. You also need to book well in advance. Our suites were spacious for such a small ship and well maintained.

The staff was mostly friendly and worked hard to please, but the cruise is geared more for adolescents and up rather than pre-teens.

The sunset dinners out on the deck were spectacular and we were able to enjoy several such evenings.

We did miss the Galapagos Waved Albatross as the season wasn’t right, but we saw all the other species of flora and fauna which was spectacular.

One of the most amazing experiences came one night post dinner when our kids noticed a couple of sea lions jump on board. It turned out there were about a dozen Galapagos sharks trailing the boat and the sea lions probably came aboard to get away from the sharks!

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

 

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