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small-ship cruising restarts for Ponant

Small-ship Cruising Restarts

by Anne Kalosh.

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

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

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

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

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

Norway-Denmark

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

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

small-ship cruising restarts

SeaDream I in Norway. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

France

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

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

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

RELATED: Ponant Adds a Forth New Ship.  by Anne Kalosh  

small-ship cruising restarts in France

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

Iceland, Svalbard, Russian Arctic

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

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

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

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

small-ship cruising restarts for Ponant

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

European waterways

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

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

French Polynesia

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

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

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

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

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

small-ship cruising restarts for Paul Gauguin

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

U.S. rivers and coasts

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

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

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

American’s plans are unclear.

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

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

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

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

small-ship cruising restarts include American Cruise Lines

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

AQSC-Uniworld offer

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

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

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

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

Small ship cruising to resume soon

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

Alaska

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

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

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

Social distancing since 1996

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

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

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

UnCruise to resume small ship cruising soon

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

Bonus Quirky news:
Whatever happened to Flying Clipper?

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

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

quirkycruise bird

 

 

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Québec's Baie-Comeau

Canada Bans Cruise Ships Through Oct.

By Anne Kalosh.

Canada extended its ban of most cruise ships through October. This effectively kills the Alaska, Canada/New England, Great Lakes and Canadian Arctic cruise seasons for most operators.

canada cruise ban equals no Northwest Passage cruises

Canadian Coast Guard ship in the Northwest Passage will have no cruise ships to watch over. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Applies to ships carrying more than 100 people

Only the smallest vessels are allowed, those with overnight accommodations for up to 100 people.

The decision had been expected given that COVID-19 is still not under control, especially in the neighboring United States.

“Large cruise ships will not be allowed in Canadian waters until at least Oct. 31,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced during a daily briefing. “This decision extends the one we made in March, which was taken to protect our coastal communities. COVID-19 is still a very serious threat.”

The new regulation is stricter than the March ban, which had applied to ships carrying more than 500 people, including crew.

Canada ban cruise ships to places like Montreal

CanadaNew-England cruises known for their fall foliage are curtailed. Here Montréal. * Photo: Cruise the Saint Lawrence

RELATED: Small Ship Lines Likely the First to Resume Operations.  by Anne Kalosh.

Expedition operators

Also, passenger vessels with the capacity to carry more than 12 people continue to be prohibited from entering Arctic coastal waters. including Nunatsiavut, Nunavik and the Labrador Coast, until Oct. 31.

This means no Northwest Passage expeditions or Canadian High Arctic adventures that are often paired with Greenland and Iceland.

polar bears in the High Arctic

No expedition ships will be taking travelers to see polar bears in the Canadian Arctic this summer. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

canada cruise ban means no northwest passage cruises

No Northwest Passage cruises this year. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

Victory Cruise Lines

Coastal operator Victory Cruise Lines, which had earlier decided to field just one vessel instead of two on the Great Lakes this year, scrapped the program altogether shortly before Canada’s notice because there had been too much uncertainty.

John Waggoner, founder and CEO of Victory’s parent, American Queen Steamboat Co., called it “a tragedy for us because the Great Lakes were so well-received, with such positive reviews.”

Canada bans cruise ships

Victory Cruise Lines will not be able to sail the Great Lakes this year because of Canada’s cruise ship ban. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Impact on ports

Many ports will suffer economic losses without cruise ships. For example, the nine ports in the Cruise the Saint Lawrence association — Montréal, Trois-Rivières, Québec, Saguenay, Baie-Comeau, Sept-Îles, Havre Saint-Pierre, Gaspé and Îles de la Madeleine — said the overall economic contribution of the 2020 season would have been $1 billion. This includes direct, indirect and induced impact, as well as 7,000 direct and indirect jobs.

The region had been looking at a record season.

Québec's Baie-Comeau

Québec’s Baie-Comeau will not have any cruise visitors in 2020. * Photo: Cruise the Saint Lawrence

U.S. ports suffer, too

Ports in Alaska and New England will suffer, too. Due to cabotage regulations, non-U.S. flag ships sailing round-trip from the United States need to stop at a foreign port. Without being able to call in Canada, those vessels won’t be able to operate Alaska and Canada/New England itineraries.

However, one ray of hope for small-ship fans: U.S.-flag operators like Alaskan Dream Cruises, American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Adventures and UnCruise Adventures don’t need to touch a foreign port, so they could still sail in Alaska and New England, provided states and communities allow it.

Safari Endeavour in Frederick Sound AK

Small ships like Safari Endeavour operated by UnCruise can still operate all Alaska sailings, as there’s no need to stop in Canada and they are not subject to the U.S. no-sail order. * Photo: UnCruise

Also, their ships are exempt from the United States’ current COVID-19-related no-sail order because they carry fewer than 250 people (passengers and crew) each.

RELATED: Alaska Adventures with UnCruise.  by Judi Cohen.

quirkycruise bird

 

 

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Dan Blanchard

Benefits of Small-Ship Cruising

By Heidi Sarna & Ted Scull.

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Blanchard

UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard

The seven coalition members are:

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

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

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

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

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

a small footprint is a benefits of small-ship cruising

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

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

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

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

RELATED: UnCruise Adventures in Alaska. by Judi Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

kayaking on a small ship

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED: An UnCruise Expedition in Hawaii.  by John Roberts

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

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

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

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

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

QuirkyCruise: What protocols will be in place?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

More about Captain Dan Blanchard from UnCruise.com

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

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

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

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

 

 

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AQSC will return to service soon

First to Resume Cruise Operations.

by Anne Kalosh.

With parts of the United States beginning to open and small passenger ships exempt from the COVID-19 no-sail order, it’s possible U.S.-flag lines will be cruising this summer.

American Cruise Lines hopes it could be the first to resume cruise operations. The aim is to restart service initially on three ships: American Song on the Columbia and Snake rivers, American Harmony on the Lower Mississippi and American Constellation in Alaska.

American Queen Steamboat Co has also just announced they plan to return the American Empress to service on July 6 in the Pacific Northwest.
June 20 from Portland

The plan is for American Song to embark June 20 in Portland, Oregon, on a Columbia and Snake rivers itinerary to Clarkston, Washington. American Harmony would sail June 28 from Memphis, bound for New Orleans. American Constellation would follow in June/July in Alaska.

This plan seems different from the stream of continuously changing cruise line announcements about when operations are “scheduled” and is perhaps a more credible possibility given American’s small vessels and its close relationships with local communities and states.

“We feel our ships are perfectly designed to be one of the first to return to service,” said Paul Taiclet, vice president of hotel operations, American Cruise Lines. He stressed this is a collaboration with ports and communities to “make sure they’re comfortable with what we’re doing.”

Resume Cruise Operations

American Song is targeted to begin sailing from Portland, Oregon, on June 20. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

“We’re working on a safe, comprehensive plan to put ships back into service that will satisfy the communities and keep guests safe and crew safe,” he said.

Customers want to travel

According to Taiclet, American has gotten a “very favorable response” from customers booked on these sailings, along with people on canceled cruises who are eager to travel.

“Our guests like the idea of staying within the United States and some live within driving distance of the ports,” he said.

SUBSCRIBE to QuirkyCruise.com for updates and special offers.

Ships carrying under 250 souls not part of no-sail order

Besides American, lines like American Queen Steamboat Co., Alaskan Dream Cruises, Blount Small Ship Adventures, Lindblad Expeditions, UnCruise Adventures and others field ships carrying fewer than the 250-person threshold in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order.

As the CDC stated in its April 15 rule:

“Based on substantial epidemiological evidence related to congregate settings and mass gatherings, this order suspends operation of vessels with the capacity to carry 250 individuals or more. Evidence shows that settings as small as nursing homes or movie theaters can proliferate the spread of a communicable disease.

“As the numbers of passengers and crew on board a ship increases, certain recommended mitigation efforts such as social distancing become more difficult to implement. In light of the demonstrated rapid spread of this communicable disease in current cruise ship settings, application of this order to vessels carrying 250 or more individuals is a prudent and warranted public health measure.”

But many factors come into play in order to resume cruise operations

Whether these small ships can resume sailing, however, is up to state health authorities, ports and local communities. Do state health officials deem conditions are safe to allow travel and do governors agree? Would passengers from other states and regions be allowed? Will ports open to these ships? Will communities want these visitors?

Taiclet stressed American will operate only if states want that, too.

“The most important thing is that we do this safely for the guests, the ports and the crew,” he said.

American’s initial three itineraries involve Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana; Oregon and Washington; and Alaska. Depending how the first cruises go and the timeline for opening other parts of the country, American hopes additional ships could resume in July with most of its fleet sailing in August.

Restoring confidence in ship travel

But will people feel it’s safe to travel by ship? Will crew want to return to work?

Lines like American, UnCruise Adventures and others say their loyal customers in particular want to sail and, according to Taiclet, his company’s crew are “eager” and “excited” to get back to their jobs.

Still, as an UnCruise Adventures spokeswoman pointed out: The travel industry as a whole, and particularly cruise operators due to the negative impressions of the pandemic, will need to assure people it is safe to travel.

Small-ship lines are betting people will feel more comfortable on vessels with less crowding, on coastal or inland itineraries that don’t take them far away with the potential of being stuck at sea or in a remote foreign port should a breakout occur.

Anyway, for Americans wishing to roam in the coming months, domestic destinations may be the only ticket available.

“We also have close relationships with the small communities we visit, and we don’t want to go anywhere that would cause uncertainty,” the UnCruise spokeswoman continued. “We are working with local and state municipalities to affirm details and are looking at mid-July to resume operations.”

Uncruise plants to Resume Cruise Operations

Safari Endeavour in Frederick Sound AK. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Detailed new health protocols

The fact that small-ship operators are publicly detailing their enhanced health protocols when many big-ship lines aren’t saying much for now suggests these domestic U.S. operators expect a quicker return to service.

All are talking about pre-screening of passengers and crew for health conditions, added screening at embarkation, changes to allow social distancing on board, heightened cleaning and sanitation and special procedures for port visits/shore excursions.

Occupancy reduced to 75 percent

At American Cruise Lines, ship occupancy will be reduced to 75 percent initially to ensure social distancing, and Taiclet said there is plenty of public space, along with private stateroom verandas, on the three ships that would begin first.

American Song would not carry more than 180 passengers, American Harmony would be capped at 190 and American Constellation at 175. This makes 450 square feet of space per guest.

ACL plans to Resume Cruise Operations

American Cruise Lines will initially limit occupancy to 75 percent. Here, American Harmony, which sails the Mississippi. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

American also teamed with a seasoned healthcare provider, Vikand Solutions, to manage medical operations, support shipboard virus prevention, screen/test guests and crew before they embark and collaborate with ports and shoreside healthcare facilities.

On the ships, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are independent for each stateroom and public space, so air is not recirculated in different areas.

Restaurant capacity will be reduced, and there will be no buffet service. In-stateroom dining can be arranged. Personal protective equipment will be provided on the ship and for guests at each destination, where recommended. Certain shipboard staff will be required to wear PPE.

Shore excursion motor coach capacity will be held to 50 percent. American charters its coaches for exclusive use and they follow the ship. The vehicles will be sanitized before every boarding. The line includes tours on the Lower Mississippi and in the Pacific Northwest so participation is high, ensuring a more controlled environment.

Adding a medical facility and nurse to each ship

Vikand Solutions will provide each vessel a nurse, supported by a shoreside doctor and other medical professionals, and take care of health situations, assessment and an outbreak plan. COVID-19 testing will be available on board, with protocols to be determined as the science evolves. Rooms on each ship will be set aside for isolation, if needed.

Before COVID-19, American did not have medical centers or nurses. As a domestic, inland operator, it was not required to do so. The company is now taking these extra proactive steps to ensure a higher level of safety.

Additional training for crew will cover the new operating protocols and heightened sanitation practices. PPE will be provided for positions like housekeeping and galley staff.

American Queen Steamboat Co.

AQSC‘s partner is Ochsner Health, a system that serves Louisiana, Mississippi and the Gulf South. (The company plans to announce a healthcare partner for its Pacific Northwest itineraries on American Empress in the coming weeks.)

AQSC has partnered with Ochsner Health.

AQSC has partnered with Ochsner Health.

Ochsner Health will conduct assessments of American Queen, American Duchess and American Countess and work with AQSC to implement disease prevention and mitigation strategies across the fleet. Also, Ochsner will reassess the AQSC vessels on a monthly basis and update recommendations as needed based on scientific data and CDC recommendations.

AQSC wants to Resume Cruise Operations

AQSC plans new dining room procedures to enhance safety. Here, American Duchess. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Virtual access to experts

A virtual clinic, powered by TytoCare, will allow employees and passengers access to shoreside healthcare professionals, including infectious disease experts.

In addition, each vessel will carry a certified medical representative to assist with urgent medical care, implement quarantine procedures and coordinate shoreside medical assistance. In an emergency, AQSC and affiliate Victory Cruise Lines have the ability to quickly transfer anyone to facilities ashore by coordinating pick-up at municipal landings and docking facilities.

Ochsner Health personnel will oversee the pre-boarding screening process and assessments for all itineraries embarking in New Orleans, and AQSC plans to identify healthcare partners for its other ports.

Elevated safety protocols include pre-cruise screenings, crew screenings, updated boarding processes, increased sanitation measures and systems like MXP Protect, which incorporates the use of thermal imaging.

AQSC is planning on Resuming Cruise Operations

Embarkation on AQSC vessels like American Queen will include a temperature check with thermal cameras. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Sister brand Victory Cruise Lines

Victory Cruise Lines, operated by AQSC, will implement similar health and safety protocols when it resumes its operations on the Great Lakes and Canadian Maritimes in 2021 (Victory just canceled its 2020 season.) Note, Victory’s two coastal ships are flagged to the Bahamas, not the U.S.

Prior to embarkation, all passengers and crew will have to complete a health questionnaire and a medical travel screening survey. At the pre-cruise hotel, medical personnel will screen each guest and conduct a temperature check. Boarding will be denied to anyone deemed to pose a health risk.

There’s a 24-hour window between the pre-cruise hotel stay and vessel embarkation.

Once people are cleared during the pre-cruise process, embarkation will be conducted via one controlled access point with thermal cameras supplementing the manual temperature checks of the pre-cruise screening.

An on-board medical representative will conduct the gangway screening, complete the health and safety survey and provide reports to the master and hotel director.

Monitoring during the cruise

Throughout AQSC voyages, trained staff will maintain protocols and observe passengers and crew for symptoms. Anyone who has an elevated temperature, shows signs or symptoms of illness or who vessel management determine needs further assessment will be sent directly to a local medical partner for evaluation and testing. Anyone testing positive for a contagious condition won’t be allowed to rejoin the vessel.

Using MXP Protect, AQSC will be able to monitor critical areas on board with thermal scanning. All passengers and crew will be monitored by passive thermal imaging when returning to the vessel in addition to random manual screening.

Public room/stateroom cleaning

And there’s more, much more that AQSC is doing.

Increased sanitation of all contact surfaces such as handrails, tables, chairs, desks, work surfaces, door handles, telephones and elevator controls — both front and back of house — will be conducted hourly with an all-chlorine solution.

All public and crew spaces will be fogged twice daily and multi-purpose disinfecting wipes will be made available in staterooms.

Cabin staff will clean and sanitize all surfaces of the room and use an EPA-approved disinfectant spray, as well as Protexus Electrostatic Sprayers to fog staterooms daily.

AQSC will fog cabins daily

AQSC’s heightened sanitation measures will include fogging staterooms daily. Here, an American Duchess suite. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Self-service buffets are suspended, and waiters will be stationed at buffets to serve food. Crew will minimize guest touch points by manually entering cabin numbers rather than using guest swipe cards and by replacing communal items such as salt/pepper pots, sugar bowls and butter bowls with single-serve packets.

Tables, chairs and countertops will be sanitized on the hour or when vacated by the guest, and menus will be printed on single-use paper and discarded after each use. All table items will be removed each time a table is vacated. All crockery, glassware and cutlery will be washed even if unused. Self-service areas are suspended in the bars, too, and individual bowls of bar snacks will be available on request.

Deck rails, swimming pools, the gangway and other external hard points will be sanitized at least every hour when in use, with the gangway sanitation occurring every half-hour when in use.

Motor coaches will be reduced to a maximum 52 percent capacity. Bus seats, windows and handrails will be sanitized with an EPA-recommended solution daily before boarding and every hour when in use. Liquid hand sanitizer dispensers will be available at the door. All shore excursions will be conducted within the guidelines of the local municipalities visited.

Alaska will be very different this season

If small-ship lines do resume sailing in the coming months, they may have some places to themselves, given many big-ship cancellations in regions like Alaska and Canada/New England.

“Sailing in Alaska this season will be more pristine than ever, and not likely duplicated anytime soon,” according to Capt. Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures.

Capt. Dan Blanchard with Wilderness Adventurer in Alaska. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

He added that Alaska “has always had my heart. I’ve sailed there since I was a boy and I’m excited to get back on board. With anything we do, we will respect local community requests and in part, our sailings are determined by the market.”

RELATED: Alaska Adventures with UnCruise.  by Judi Cohen

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RELATED: A QuirkyCruise.com Q&A with UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard about the new seven-member US Small-Boat Operators Coalition.

 

Don’t miss great articles, reviews, news & tips about small-ship cruising, SUBSCRIBE to QuirkyCruise.com for updates and special offers!  

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Hawaii cruise

Hawaii Cruise Expedition

By John Roberts.

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

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

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

Hawaii Cruise

John jumping into a great week! * Photo: UnCruise

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

Safari Explorer Hawaii

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

Hawaii cruise aboard the Safari Explorer

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

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

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

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

Hawaii cruise with UnCruise

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

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Hawaii Cruise: The Staff

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

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

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

Authentic Hawaii Cruise

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

Hawaii Cruise: Connected to the Past

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

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

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

Hawaii Cruise: Molokai

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

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

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

Hawaii Cruise: Family Heritage

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

In port in Molokai on a Hawaii Cruise

Uncle Pilipo and his grandsons. * Photo: John Roberts

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

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

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

the traditional "honi" on a Hawaii cruise

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

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

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

Making poi on an Hawaiian cruise

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

Hawaii Cruise: Natural Disasters

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

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

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

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

Hawaiian cruise

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

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

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

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

Below is a video tour of Hotel Molokai.

Hawaii Cruise: Quirky Ship Built for Island Adventures

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

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

Safari Explorer cabin

John’s cabin. * Photo: John Roberts

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

Hawaii Cruise with Captain Tyler

Captain Tyler at the wheel. * Photo: John Roberts

Open bridge on Safari Explorer

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

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

Hawaii cruise top deck

Morning stretches on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

Safari explorer gym weights

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

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

Safari Explorer bar

Drinks are included! * Photo: John Roberts

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

main lounge of Safari Explorer

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

Hawaii Cruise: Food Department

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

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

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

Safari Explorer's dining room

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

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

Dinner on an Hawaii cruise

Yummy pork belly. * Photo: John Roberts

Check out some of the specialties that the kitchen created:

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

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

(I drooled just typing that paragraph.)

Dessert on the Safari Explorer

Dessert is served! * Photo: John Roberts

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

Hawaii Cruise: Four Islands & Endless Fun

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

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

Hawaii cruise on Safari Explorer

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

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

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

kayaking on an Hawaii cruise

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

snorkeling on an Hawaii cruise

Snorkeling fun! * Photo: John Roberts

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

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

Hawaii cruise swimming

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

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

Hawaii cruise crew

Lauren and Sophy. * Photo: John Roberts

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

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

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

green sea turtle on a Hawaii cruise

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

John snorkeling in Hawaii

John snorkeling.

Hawaii cruise snorkeling

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

Hawaii Cruise: Lanai

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

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

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

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

dolphins on a Hawaii cruise

Seeing dolphins up close! * Photo: John Roberts

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

Hawaii cruise wooden canoe

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

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

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

Hawaii cruise canoe

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

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

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

lava formations on an Hawaii cruise

Cool lava formations. * Photo: John Roberts

turtles in Hawaii

Turtle time. * Photo: John Roberts

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

Dolphins on a Hawaii cruise

Dolphins spotted from a skiff! * Photo: John Roberts

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

lava tubes in Hawaii

Lava tubes. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: A Bit of Chop

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

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

Safari Explorer in Hawaii

Weeee! * Photo: John Roberts

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

Hawaii cruise snacks

Hawaiian shave ices anyone? * Photo: John Roberts

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

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

Hawaii cruise aboard Safari Explorer

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

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

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

Hawaii cruise crew

Jose & Jessica. * Photo: John Roberts

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

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

Hawaii sunset

Until next time …. * Photo: John Roberts

For booking info, contact UnCruise Adventures.

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

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

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

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American Empress wave season offers

Wave Season Deals.

By Anne Kalosh.

Now is a terrific time to plan a small-ship cruise. Wave season, January to March, is the annual peak booking period for the cruise lines, when they typically tout their best deals. Travelers can save on a range of quirky ocean, coastal, river and sailing vessels.

Here are some examples.

Wave Season Deals: Scenic

Scenic Discovery Yacht

Starting at the top, the sumptuous new six-star 228-passenger discovery yacht Scenic Eclipse, which debuted in 2019, is far from a bargain. Yet when Scenic says “all-inclusive,” that means the price covers everything. (Well, almost. Helicopter and submarine rides and spa treatments cost extra.)

All-suite accommodations, butler service, 10 dining experiences and an almost 1:1 staff to guest ratio are hallmarks of the head-turning Scenic Eclipse.

Wave Season Deals on Scenic Eclipse

Everything is included in the Scenic Eclipse pricing, apart from a few extras like helicopter rides. * Photo: Scenic

But if you’re splashing out on a six-star super-yacht, why not save on the flights? Discounts on business-class airfare and free economy-class air are available for bookings made now.

Select departures throughout 2020 and 2021 include reduced business-class fares of $995 and $1,995 and free economy air, or up to $2,500 savings in lieu of the flights.

For a 20-day Antarctica trip in late 2020, free business-class air saves $3,000 per person for the flight to Buenos Aires. Scenic Eclipse’s Nov 20 and Dec 8 sailings explore Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

Early bird fare savings of up to $6,950 per person, double occupancy, are also available on some departures.

RELATED: Peter Knego’s Scenic Eclipse Review.

SUBSCRIBE to QuirkyCruise.com for updates and special offers!

Scenic Wave Season Deals

The Scenic Eclipse in Antarctica. * Photo: Scenic

Scenic Space-Ships

On the rivers, Scenic’s Space Ships — so named because of their spaciousness — have wave deals including free air or $1,000 per person savings on eight- to 10-day itineraries. Sailings of at least 11 days come with free premium economy air or $1,800 per person savings or $1,995 business-class airfares on select departures.

Standard balcony on Scenic Gem

Spacious standard balcony suite on the Scenic Gem. * Photo: Scenic

Door-to-door airport transfers are included for travelers booking cabins on the highest deck (Diamond) for sailings of at least 11 days. Those booking any cabin on a 15-day Jewels of Europe itinerary departing between July and October will receive free premium economy airfare and door-to-door airport transfers.

Going solo? Scenic is shaving 50 percent off the single supplement rate on quite a few 2020 departures.

Scenic’s website for booking details.

RELATED: 15 Reasons to do the Mekong River with Scenic … by Heidi Sarna.

Scenic Gem offers wave season deals

The spacious Scenic Gem. * Photo: Scenic

Wave Season Deals: AQSC & Victory

Rollin’ on the American Rivers

American Queen Steamboat Co.’s (AQSC) 245-passenger American Countess paddle-wheeler is set to debut on the Mississippi River in April. This fourth vessel in the AQSC fleet has four decks, including a sun deck, and 123 staterooms in four categories. Modern-design cabins, gourmet dining, included shore excursions and Broadway-caliber entertainment are hallmarks.

During wave season, travelers can save up to $2,500 per stateroom ($1,250 per person) on select 2020 voyages.

American Empress wave season offers

The pretty American Empress. * Photo: American Queen Steamboat Co

AQSC is adding new theme cruises in 2020, ranging from Pacific Northwest Wine Cruises aboard American Empress to the American River BBQ Challenge on American Countess, American Queen and American Duchess along the lower Mississippi. Special performances highlight the American Music Festival cruise on American Duchess, while exclusive bourbon tastings and lectures feature on the Bourbon to Blues cruises aboard American Countess and American Duchess.

Bookings made during wave season offer savings up to $2,500 per stateroom ($1,250 per person) on select 2020 voyages.

American Queen Steamboat Company’s website for booking details.

RELATED:Bill Forsstrum Talks about the Steamboat American Queen.

wave season offers for American Countess

The new American Countess’ modern cabins. * Rendering: American Queen Steamboat Co.

Victory is Yours

AQSC’s sister company, Victory Cruise Lines, fields a pair of twin coastal ships and, new in spring 2021, the Ocean Victory expedition vessel will debut in Alaska and British Columbia.

During 2020, the 202-passenger ships Victory I and Victory II will introduce new southern sailings to Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and the Southeastern United States. These are in addition to their northern sailings in the Great Lakes, Canadian Maritimes and New England.

During wave season, travelers can save up to $3,000 per stateroom ($1,500 per person) on select 2020 voyages.

Victory Cruise Lines website.

RELATED: Great Lakes Cruising Aboard a Replica Coastal Steamer … by Peter Knego

RELATED: American Queen Acquires Victory Cruise Lines … by Anne Kalosh

Victory I wave season deals

The traditional-style Victory I. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Wave Season Deals: UnCruise Adventures

Travelers planning an active trip have until Feb. 28 to save with UnCruise Adventures, whose small ships focus on nature and wildlife. Kayaking, hiking, beachcombing, paddle boarding, snorkeling, skiff excursions and wildlife searches are part of every UnCruise.

The line is offering up to $1,000 per couple on voyages to Alaska, Mexico, Costa Rica & Panama, Belize & Guatemala, Colombia & Panama, and Hawaii. A suite deal gives groups savings on larger suites.

In Southeast Alaska, travelers can save up to $1,000 per couple on weeklong adventures aboard the 84-passenger Safari Endeavour and the 86-passenger Legacy when booking a commander cabin or higher category. Safari Endeavour sails from Juneau and Sitka and Legacy sails from Juneau and Ketchikan.

Savings up to $500 per couple on weeklong Alaska adventure cruises aboard the 76-passenger Wilderness Discoverer and 74-passenger Wilderness Explorer are available when booking a trailblazer cabin or higher category. Both ships sail from Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan.

wave deals for Wilderness Explorer in Alaska

Wilderness Explorer in Alaska. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

RELATED: Alaska Cruise Adventures with UnCruise … by Judi Cohen.

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

RELATED: The Pacific Northwest with UnCruise … by Ted Scull.

Hawaiian Islands & Latin America

Celebrating its first year of full-calendar Hawaii sailings, UnCruise is giving a discount of $700 per couple on weeklong cruises departing between March 7 and Sept. 5. The 36-passenger Safari Explorer yacht visits Hawai’i, Molokai, Lanai and Maui with included activities exploring land and sea. Cultural heritage is a key component in the islands; a full day is spent with locals on Molokai.

Safari Explorer is on sale during wave season

The Safari Explorer now sails Hawaii year-round. * Photo: UnCruise

The 66-passenger Safari Voyager sails adventure cruises in Latin America. Belize and Colombia itineraries are new in fall 2020. Travelers can save $800 per couple on seven-night Costa Rica & Panama, Belize & Guatemala, and Colombia & Panama cruises departing between April 20 and Dec. 5.

Savings of $1,000 per couple are offered on 10-night Costa Rica & Panama cruises embarking through March 29.

In Mexico’s wildlife-rich Sea of Cortés, travelers can save $700 per couple for sailings departing through April 4 when booking a commander cabin or higher category. The 84-passenger Safari Endeavour explores the marine-life rich waters of this UNESCO World Heritage Site on weeklong adventures round-trip from San Jose del Cabo. Activities include snorkeling with sea lions, desert hikes and remote beach explorations, a mule ride with local rancheros, and close-up encounters with gray whales and calves at Magdalena Bay during calving season.

Suite Deal

Families and other groups booking four or more cabins aboard the Legacy, Safari Voyager or Safari Endeavour on select 2020 Latin America or Alaska adventure cruises can save 50 percent on a larger suite as the fourth cabin. Suites provide a private gathering and party space for small groups. Travelers can save 50 percent on the 600-square-foot owner’s suite aboard Legacy and Safari Voyager or a commodore suite on Safari Endeavour.

UnCruise Adventures website for booking info.

Safari Voyager deals

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

Wave Season Deals: Star Clippers

Here’s your chance to save on a tall-ship adventure with Star Clippers. The line’s “Choose Your Wave” offers apply to 2020 and 2021 sailings in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Asia.

Star Clippers operates three of the world’s largest and tallest sailing vessels. Star Clipper and Star Flyer are traditional clipper ships with modern amenities. Each carries 170 passengers. The 227-passenger Royal Clipper holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest and only five-mast, full-rigged sailing ship in service today.

All three vessels have expansive teak decks, swimming pools, informal dining and convivial tropical bars on deck.

wave season deals on Royal Clipper

The lovely Royal Clipper off the coast of Sromboli, Italy. * Photo: Star Clippers

The “Choose Your Wave” special lets travelers pick the deal that bests suits them. The choices are a $200 on-board credit per person, a one-cabin category upgrade or a complimentary massage and bottle of champagne in cabin plus prepaid gratuities.

This offer is good for any 2020 or 2021 sailing in the Caribbean and select 2021 Mediterranean cruises. Travelers booking any 2020 or 2021 Southeast Asia sailing can choose two of the wave options. Travel must be booked by Feb. 29.

RELATED: Star Clippers Thailand Cruise Rocks … by Heidi Sarna

RELATED: Royal Clipper Med Cruise with a Newbie … by Christina Colon

Star Clippers website for booking info.

Star Clippers deals

Climbing the masts is part of the fun on a Star Clippers cruise. * Photo: Star Clippers

Wave Season Deals: Drifting along the Danube

The Danube River winds through 10 countries, carving a historic path that unites fairytale villages, capital cities, castles and forested slopes for picture-perfect landscapes as far as the eye can see.

Given the exceptional diversity in food, architecture, culture and history, it’s no surprise that nearly 50 percent of Avalon Waterways travelers chose the Danube for their European vacation in 2019.

Avalon provides nearly 30 Danube itineraries that range from four to 27 days, one of the biggest varieties of any line. Another distinction: “Short and Suite” getaways of four and six days. These are priced starting at $874 and provide time-starved travelers and first-time river cruisers the chance to test river cruise waters.

For a limited time, travelers can extend select Danube vacations in Budapest or Prague for free, a value of up to $759. Bookings must be made by March 9 for travel through Dec. 30.

Avalon Waterways website for booking info.

Avalon waterways wave season discounts

Avalon offers nearly 30 Danube itineraries of different combinations. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

quirkycruise bird

 

 

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UnCruise's WILDERNESS DISCOVERER in Alaska

Wilderness Discoverer in Alaska.

REVIEWER

H Schneider from the USA.

CRUISE LINE

UnCruise.

SHIP

Wilderness Discoverer.

DESTINATION

Alaska Inside Passage.

# OF NIGHTS

7.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

Aug 2019, from Sitka, Alaska.

OVERALL RATING

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

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating: 4

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 5

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 1 small ship cruise.

REVIEW

Our UnCruise Family reunion/anniversary trip to Alaska was spectacular! The public spaces on the ship were very welcoming and ample, with a surprisingly complete library on Alaska & wildlife, along with other reading materials.

Attention to details is what made this cruise—from the hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps waiting for the snorkelers as they got out of the frigid waters into the skiff, to having a national parks ranger have a presentation then spend the nite on board being assessable to all kinds of interesting discussions, to the slide show the last night with photos of all of us from the previous week—a gift to each of us. The activities were as mild as touring around on a skiff with a knowledgable funny guide to as intense as a 6 hour kayak trip—lunch & jokes included. You choose—2 activities a day were offered and although we chose different activities each of us felt our choice was the best! Wildlife viewing or searching was the common denominator and we weren’t disappointed!

I haven’t even mentioned the delicious meals and fun drinks served with smiles by a collection of dear & enthused staff that know how to connect! The cruise ended way too quickly with an amazing collection of  memories.

 

QuirkyCruise Review

 

reader reviews logo hi resContribute to our pool of honest reviews by real passengers. QuirkyCruise wants to hear about your latest small ship cruise for our Reader Reviews, a growing reservoir of opinions by small ship cruise lovers around the world. We don’t edit or sugarcoat, we just present QuirkyCruise reader reviews straight from travelers to you.

Click here to fill out a QuirkyCruise Reader Review FORM.

And here’s an INDEX of ALL our Reader Reviews. Have a look at what fellow travelers have to say and see what floats your boat.

 

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Legacy in Alaska with UnCruise

Legacy in Alaska.

REVIEWER

Lawrence from Canada.

CRUISE LINE

UnCruise.

SHIP

SS Legacy.

DESTINATION

Alaska Inside Passage from Juneau, Alaska.

# OF NIGHTS

7.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

May 2019, from Juneau.

OVERALL RATING

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

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating: 4

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 5

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 8 small ship cruise.

REVIEW

I enjoyed the UnCruise hospitality and the staff’s spirit of adventure. Visiting Alaska on a small ship allowed us to go into more remote areas and see the bears, mountain goats and sea lions up-close. The captain would stop the ship or change course if he knew there were whales or other wildlife to see.

The food was outstanding. the chef just kept creating better and better local delicacies. I never had a problem getting my meals prepared gluten-free.

It would be nice to see more people from other countries on these cruises. Most of the passengers on our ship were American.

I’d do another UnCruise anytime!

 

QuirkyCruise Review

 

reader reviews logo hi resContribute to our pool of honest reviews by real passengers. QuirkyCruise wants to hear about your latest small ship cruise for our Reader Reviews, a growing reservoir of opinions by small ship cruise lovers around the world. We don’t edit or sugarcoat, we just present QuirkyCruise reader reviews straight from travelers to you.

Click here to fill out a QuirkyCruise Reader Review FORM.

And here’s an INDEX of ALL our Reader Reviews. Have a look at what fellow travelers have to say and see what floats your boat.

 

Don’t miss a post, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com for monthly updates!  

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

Free UnCruise Columbia & Snake River Cruise

UnCruise Columbia & Snake River Cruise Winner

By Heidi Sarna & Ted Scull.

🎉 And THE WINNER IS …. Adam Klein of Arizona!

Adam was chosen at random from thousands of entries to win our awesome “free 7-night cruise with UnCruise Adventures” contest.

Free UnCruise Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise

And the winner IS ….

“I was in complete shock that I was drawn out of 4,000 entries,” Adam told us.

He’s been on two cruises, but never a small-ship quirky cruise, and Adam and his wife are very excited to have the opportunity to dip their toes into the small-ship world!

UnCruise Columbia & Snake River Cruise winner Adam Klein and his wife.

“Small-ship cruise lines like UnCruise sound really attractive because they can cater to each individual’s needs more attentively,” Adam says after reading more about the UnCruise Colombia & Snake River cruise he and his wife will be taking soon.

What does Adam look forward to the most?

“Definitely the active shore excursions and going through the locks!” he says.

Lock on the Columbia River

The Legacy transiting a Columbia River lock. * Photo: UnCruise

UnCruise Adventures SS Legacy

Adult summer camp anyone! * Photo: John Roberts

A big congratulations to Adam again and stay tuned for an article about Adam’s adventure, along with photos and videos.

Read more about UnCruise Columbia & Snake Rivers cruising here.

And also HERE in John Roberts’ article for us.

Columbia & Snake Rivers map

Columbia & Snake Rivers cruise itinerary. * Photo: UnCruise

And watch this space for our next small-ship cruise giveaway!

 

Don’t miss a post, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com for monthly updates! 

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

Alaska cruise adventures aboard UnCruise's Legacy

Small-Ship Alaska Cruise Adventures.

By Judi Cohen.

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

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

Alaska cruise adventures aboard UnCruise's Legacy

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

Introducing the SS Legacy

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

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

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

Alaska cruise writer Judi Cohen aboard UnCruise's Legacy

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

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

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

An Alaska cruise on a small ship

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

Wonderfully All-Inclusive

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

Alaska cruise and kayaking excursions

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

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

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

The busy Lounge and bar

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

Naturalists & Crew

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

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

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

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

Alaska cruise with UnCruise lecturer Kate Judi with Kate

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

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

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

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

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

Alaska cruise mountain goat sighting

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

Alaska cruise wildlife

Bearded mountain goats in Glacier Bay. * Photo: Uncruise

Cozy  & Compact Cabins

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

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

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

Cabin #306 aboard the 90-passenger Legacy

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

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

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

Alaska cruise with writer Judi Cohen on bow

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

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

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

The Grand Salon Lounge and Bar

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

The Klondike Dining Room

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

Dining Room with swinging doors into Pesky Barnacle saloon

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

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

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

Getting ready in the Pesky Barnacle

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

Mealtime was Pure Joy

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

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

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

Full Breakfast with all the fixins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lamb Popsicles with fenugreek curry and charred broccoli.

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

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

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

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

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

Alaska cruise dining on Dungeness crabs

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

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

Dessert, fruity pebbles and candy floss macarons

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

A Week of Non-stop Adventure 

Map from bulletin board, updated daily

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

Day 1: Juneau

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

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

Day 2: Tidal Inlet & Glacier Bay National Park

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

Alaska cruise reflections in the waters of Glacier Bay

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

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

Judi and Lawrence in a Kayak

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

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

Alaska cruise kayaking

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

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

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

Judi with Ranger Caitie before she departed in Bartlett Cove

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

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

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

Alaska cruise approaching Margerie Glacier

Approaching Margerie Glacier. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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

Lawrence on the sundeck

Lawrence on the sundeck. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Day 3: Lamplugh Glacier & South Marble Island

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

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

Alaska cruise wildlife includes Sea Lions

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

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

Alaska cruise UnCruise Polar Plunge

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

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

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

Mama Brown Bear and Two Cubs

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

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

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

Huna House Bartlett Cove in Glacier National Park

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

Day 4: Neka Bay Wildlife Extravaganza

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

Alaska Cruise Bald Eagle Sighting

A majestic Bald Eagle sighting. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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

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

Judi and Lawrence free-kayaking in Neka Bay

Judi and Lawrence free-kayaking in Neka Bay.

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

Giant starfish on Judi's hat before bushwacking trek.

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

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

Judi bushwacking

Judi bushwacking! * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

Killer Whales portside - binoculars focused

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

Day 5: Scenery Cove & Baird Glacier 

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

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

Hiking at Cascade Creek Alaska

Hiking at Cascade Creek. * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Day 6: Robert & Crow Islands, Plus Woodspit

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

Lawrence and Earl on a skiff

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

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

Humpback Whale fluke

Humpback Whale fluke. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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

What a show!

On the bow watching humpbacks

On the bow watching humpbacks. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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

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

On the Bridge with Captain Voss heading towards Dawes Glacier

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

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

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

Day 8: Disembarkation in Juneau

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

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

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

End Note

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

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

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

Alaska cruise aboard UnCruise's Legacy

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

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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Galapagos Islands Overview

By Heidi Sarna.

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

The endemic Galapagos marine iguana

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

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

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

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

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

— Galapagos Conservancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ports of Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go

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

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

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

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

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

Company Reviews

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

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

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

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

Eclipse Travel

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

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

Journeys International

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

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

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

Mountain Travel Sobek

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

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

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

Natural Habitat Adventures

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

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

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

Wilderness Travel

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

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

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

Charles Darwin in More Detail 

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Machu Picchu

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

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

 

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UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii

More UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii

By Ted Scull.

Summer small-ship adventure cruising amongst the Hawaiian Islands has been added to UnCruise’s long-established November to April sailings. Choose from six departures with a choice of four 7-nighters in July and two in August 2019. They depart from and return to Moloka’i and explore the land and waters of three additional islands — Lana’i, the Big Island of Hawai’i, and West Maui.

Your home away from home is the Safari Explorer, a 36-passenger mini cruiser that has called Hawaii home from the late fall to early spring months since 2011. Four cabins have a third berth, ideal for a family of three, adding up to a maximum of 40 souls — not 400 or 4,000 — so we are talking about true yacht size.

UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii

UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii aboard the 36-passenger Safari Explorer. * Photo: Uncruise

With Hawaii being a gorgeous sprawling archipelago, most visitors fly between the islands, having to pack and unpack multiple times. However, if you travel by sea between some of them, the transits are at night while you are sleeping, and you unpack once and enjoy the ride.

During daylight cruising, you may come upon whales and dolphins, the latter the spinning species. Green sea turtles may surface while you are kayaking or enjoying a ride in an inflatable skiff.

UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii

Kayaking through lava tubes! * Photo: UnCruise

While snorkeling, giant Pacific manta rays could glide by along with reef fish and seals. And when you want a respite from all the activity, beach yourself and look for crabs scooting across the sand or go paddle boarding.

Moloka’i is the departure and arrival port, and it allows opportunities to visit Hawaiian families in the lovely verdant Halawa Valley to experience the local culture, hear island lore and watch poi being made from taro roots that is then cooked and pounded into an eatable tasty paste. An evening pa’ina feast is accompanied by dancing to traditional Hawaiian music.

UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii

The 7-night Hawaii itinerary. * Photo: UnCruise

On Hawaii, the big island, explore the Kona Coast aided by hiking poles, visit the town of Kalua and climb up to WWII military forts, and then return to blue waters to kayak through lava tubes.

Making the adventure even more appetizing, much of the food aboard Safari Explorer is fresh local produce, meat and sustainable seafood from the island’s fisherfolk.

UnCruises’ Hawaii fares start at $5,195 per person, double occupancy and are inclusive of all meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, planned activities and transfers at Moloka’i. Reap $600 early-booking discounts per couple that are good until March 29th.

UnCruise Adventures in Hawaii

Can’t beat Stand Up Paddle-boarding in Hawaii. * Photo: UnCruise

 

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