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UnCruise update

UnCruise Update & Other News.

By Anne Kalosh.

The one traveler who tested positive for COVID-19, ending UnCruise Adventures’ short-lived Alaska program, subsequently tested negative. This led many cruise fans to decry a “false positive,” but UnCruise CEO Capt. Dan Blanchard isn’t going along with that.

Blanchard said the Alaska state COVID PCR test that produced the positive must be respected.

There’s a much higher likelihood of a false negative than a false positive, he explained. The chance of a false positive is very low.

“So I have to call it a positive. I believe this was a positive, not a false positive.”

UnCruise Updates about aboard sailing

Wilderness Adventurer carried just 36 passengers on its aborted voyage. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

Some validation of safe sailing protocols

Assuming the traveler did have coronavirus — he remained asymptomatic — UnCruise provided some validation of safe sailing protocols since nobody else got sick.

“Our plan worked,” Blanchard said. “It worked flawlessly.”

State epidemiologists and contact tracers thought everyone on a small boat could potentially be exposed if someone became ill. But the way UnCruise designed its program, with people frequently off the boat in small groups for wilderness activities, that wasn’t the case, according to Blanchard.

Travelers were separated so, for example, contact tracing identified a person who shared a skiff ride with the infected man, and that person was among the four who had to remain in quarantine, while others who tested negative and didn’t have close contact were cleared to go home.

UnCruise passengers wearing masks

UnCruise travelers wore masks on a skiff ride. * Photo: UnCruise Adventurers

For UnCruise and other hopeful U.S.-flag cruise operators, though, that positive was a blow.

“Once the word got out, that killed us,” Blanchard said. The line immediately halted operations, canceling the five planned weeks in Alaska and five in the Pacific Northwest to follow. He said other small-ship U.S. companies were impacted, too.

Along with the losses of six other companies that planned to operate, he tallied probably “tens or twenties of millions of dollars” in cancellations due to the one positive UnCruise case.

Call for rapid, reliable testing

What would have prevented this, in Blanchard’s view, is reliable, rapid testing with a four-hour return or less. Rapid testing at the Juneau airport would have made the difference in not boarding the guest, and the trip would have run.

“If I had the president and the Congress in front of me right now, I’d say … Rapid testing, please, if you want to get this economy going. It should be at the airports, and it should be readily available and reliable.”

UnCruise Update

Quick, reliable COVID-19 tests are sorely needed, UnCruise CEO Capt. Dan Blanchard said. * Photo: UnCruise Adventurers

Hawaii looking ‘iffy’

UnCruise is scheduled to start Hawaii sailings in December, but Blanchard said both Alaska and Hawaii have been very cautious about COVID-19, “and whether we’ll be able to start in Hawaii and we’ll have rapid testing, it’s hard to say.”

Alaska 2021

Blanchard thinks the kind of wilderness cruises his company operates — the weeklong Glacier Bay itineraries crafted for this season were chock-full of activities like skiff rides, snorkeling, hiking, kayaking and more, with the only port being the Juneau turnaround — are a safer way to operate.

UnCruise Update

Kayaking during UnCruise Adventures brief return to service earlier this month. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

“Big ships and maybe small ships that make a lot of port calls, that’s going to be a huge challenge,” he said.

Crystal and Viking cancel through 2020

In other small-ship news, two diversified operators — Crystal Cruises and Viking Cruises — both threw in the towel for 2020. None of their vessels, ocean or river, will be sailing this year because things are just too up in the air.

Both companies are giving incentives for travelers on the canceled voyages to book future dates.

In a letter to Viking travelers, Chairman Torstein Hagen said “recent events have shown us that the recovery from this pandemic will be sporadic, and the ability to travel freely across borders remains some time away. Fortunately, the U.S. State Department has lifted some travel advisories for Americans, but many countries are still limiting tourists. As keen as we may be to get back to exploring, for now, international travel must wait.”

Crystal Clean+ 2.0

Crystal, meanwhile, outlined new health protocols for when the 106-passenger Crystal Bach, Crystal Debussy, Crystal Mahler and Crystal Ravel resume service in 2021. Among the Crystal Clean+ 2.0 actions are online check-in/health questionnaire, assigned arrival time to reduce congestion at embarkation, a second health questionnaire prior to boarding and a temperature check.

Social spaces on board will have reduced capacity, and social distancing will be enforced.

Since all four of Crystal’s river fleet only carry half the number of travelers typical on a 135-meter vessel, there’s been no talk about reducing overall occupancy.

Also, all accommodations consist of balcony suites.

Small ship updates

Crystal river vessels already provide loads of passenger space. Here, Crystal Bach on the Danube. * Photo: Crystal River Cruises

Masks will be provided to passengers and crew and will be required in venues and instances where proper distancing isn’t possible. On shore, Crystal will comply with destinations’ rules about masks.

Enhanced cleaning protocols will include medical-grade disinfectants, electrostatic fogging as an added practice prior to embarkation, 100 percent fresh-air supply and HEPA filters to remove 99.95 percent of airborne pathogens.

Open-seating dining will continue, with distancing. Self-service options will be eliminated and in-room dining choices will be available 24/7.

Tour group sizes will be reduced. Crystal includes tours in most places so it has greater control over the shore experience.

Hebridean Island Cruises adds new yacht

HP Shipping, which fields Hebridean Princess, acquired the 27-cabin luxury yacht Lord of the Glens. As with Hebridean Princess, the operator is Hebridean Island Cruises, which is chartering the vessel.

Commencing in April 2021, Lord of the Glens will offer five- and seven-night jaunts along Scotland’s scenic Caledonian Canal between Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh, including Loch Ness and Oban.

With its deep blue hull and white superstructure, Lord of the Glens’ livery was inspired by the royal yacht Britannia. The elegant, four-deck vessel’s cabins were recently refurbished.

Lord of the Glens update

Scottish yacht Lord of the Glens has a new owner. * Photo: Magna Carta Steamship Co.

New Windstar routes

Windstar Cruises’ lengthening and update of its three all-suite yachts will come to fruition in 2021. Besides new dining, an enlarged pool deck and added suites, each ship’s capacity will increase from 212 passengers to 312.

Because many of Windstar’s new itineraries for 2020 were canceled due to the pandemic, 2021 has many new ports and routes, including several selections in Alaska (like a shorter, seven-day cruise), comprehensive Black Sea itineraries, sailings to the Holy Land and additional ports and offerings in Canada/New England following a one-year hiatus from visiting the region.

More cruises departing from U.S. ports include two yachts sailing Caribbean cruises round-trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Also of note, Star Breeze, the first yacht to emerge from its extensive Star-Plus transformation in fall 2020, will be sailing the new itineraries in California and the Sea of Cortez, along with filling in for the 148-passenger Wind Spirit, which typically sails year-round in Tahiti.

Star Breeze stretch

The Star Breeze with its new lengthened profile at the shipyard a few months ago. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

While Wind Spirit undergoes routine maintenance at a scheduled dry dock, Star Breeze will take over the seven-day “Dreams of Tahiti” itinerary, giving travelers a one-time chance to experience this newly updated all-suite ship in the South Pacific.

On Wind Spirit’s way to Indonesia for its dry dock and back, there are rare opportunities to visit places like Port Vila, Vanuatu, and cross the Coral Sea.

Silver Origin’s enhanced Galápagos itineraries

Silver Origin, built for the Galápagos and just delivered to Silversea Cruises this year, will offer 68 voyages in 2021 that incorporate five maiden calls, including the island of Santa Fe.

Fernandina and Isabela islands will now feature on both of the ship’s itineraries, and each will include improved programs ashore.

These will give travelers more opportunities to admire the iconic wildlife of the archipelago, including the Galapágos penguin, green sea turtles, endemic iguanas and many remarkable birds.

Silver Origin has one guide for every 10 guests and one Zodiac for every dozen or so travelers.

Silver Origin update

Silversea’s new Silver Origin. * Photo: Silverseas

Savings for Emerald Harmony’s 2021/22 Mekong

Emerald Waterways opened bookings for the 2021/22 Mekong River season for its 84-passenger Emerald Harmony with savings for U.S. travelers.

Emerald Harmony Mekong update

The 84-passenger Emerald Harmony plies the Mekong River. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

The vessel offers four itineraries: The eight-day “Majestic Mekong Cruise” sails between Prek’kdam, Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, while the 13-day “Majestic Mekong Discoverer Cruise” travels between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap with time on land to explore Angkor Wat.

The 17-day “Treasures & Temples of Vietnam & Cambodia” cruise-tour adds stops in Hanoi and Halong Bay in the north, and the 21-day “Grand Tour of Vietnam & Cambodia” cruise-tour includes Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Hue and Siem Reap.

U.S. travelers who book any program 13 days or longer will receive their choice of $2,000 savings per couple or free, round-trip air to Asia, while those choosing the eight-day river cruise will receive $1,500 savings per couple or round-trip air for $295. This offer is good for bookings made by Dec. 31, 2020.

Additionally, travelers paying in full within 14 days of booking will save $400 per person. This early payment discount expires Sept. 30, 2020. All bookings are covered by Emerald Waterways’ flexible Deposit Protection Plan.

Emerald Harmony, which entered service in 2019, has a shallow enough draft to sail all the way to Ho Chi Minh City, unlike many vessels that use a more distant port and bus travelers in and out.

Emerald Harmony restaurant

Emerald Harmony’s Reflections Restaurant. * Photo: Emerald Waterways

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Masks worn by passengers in the Small-Ship Sector

Small-Ship Sector Still Active

By Anne Kalosh.

While most travel remains on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, dynamism in the small-ship sector gives cause for hope.

Just a trickle of ships are operating, many for local markets only, but it’s a growing trickle. New brands have launched. Ship construction continues.

There are setbacks, too. Delays in restarting service, delays in new build deliveries, ship withdrawals.

But overall things seem a tad more encouraging in the “small is beautiful” realm.

Here’s a rundown of some of the latest developments.

New brands

As QuirkyCruise has recently reported, the venerable Swan Hellenic brand is staging a comeback. Two expedition ships are under construction, the first scheduled for late 2021 in Antartica.

And new brand Atlas Ocean Voyages confirmed its first ship, the 196-passenger World Navigator, is on track to debut a year from now, in July 2021. The line just broke out a new website, here @ Atlas Ocean Voyages,  that emphasizes its adventurous profile, with images of diving, hang gliding and biking interlaced with video clips of Antarctic landscapes and Mediterranean seascapes.

Atlas also recently announced it’s bundling airfare into pricing, making for an even more inclusive product that already had components like gratuities, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, Wi-Fi and at least one shore excursion on every itinerary (in Antarctica, all outings are covered).

Atlas Ocean Voyages'The World Navigator

The World Navigator. * Photo: Atlas Ocean Voyages

First U.S.-based river line to resume Europe cruising

While European lines like A-Rosa and CroisiEurope have restarted river sailings — the latter with Botticelli July 13 on the Seine — U.S. operators’ hopes for sending Americans to Europe this year may be fading. Since the United States hasn’t managed to control coronavirus, most European countries are blocking Americans.

But ever-resourceful AmaWaterways found a way to sail, albeit on a very limited basis and with a different business model. One of its vessels, AmaKristina, is operating charter sailings in Germany, carrying local guests.

“Although many countries continue to have travel restrictions in place, we have begun operating a series of sailings for European guests, in collaboration with an established German tour operator, e-hoi. With these sailings, we have been able to put into practice and perfect our enhanced health and safety protocols while demonstrating that travelers can enjoy our unforgettable river cruise vacations with peace of mind,” said Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-founder of AmaWaterways.

The new procedures reflect the recommendations of E.U. Healthy Gateways, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, IG RiverCruise and other bodies.

Pre-boarding health questionnaires are required, and passengers and crew are subject to daily temperature checks. The crew received in-depth updated training. When more Ama vessels are able to operate, each will have a designated public health officer to oversee protocols.

AmaWaterways normally carry up to 150 passengers per vessel, however current regulations limit European river boats to 100 guests.

Crew must wear face coverings at all times, while guests have to do so only while moving around the vessel. With capacity currently capped, this means the main restaurant and The Chef’s Table easily accommodate the distancing now required. New room service options have been added.

Masks worn by passengers in the Small-Ship Sector

Masks are worn by passengers and crew on AmaKristina, which began sailing in Germany. * Photo: AmaWaterways

AmaKatrina lounges have plexiglass to separate seating groups and, for the time being, there are no live singing performances since the virus can be spread by droplets.

Passengers use the personal portable Quietvox systems that Ama has always provided to hear guides’ commentary while distancing during the included small-group shore excursions. Many tours involve hiking and biking.

Yangtze cruises to restart

China’s Ministry of Transport issued guidelines for the resumption of Yangtze River cruises, which will be available to the domestic market.

Initially, itineraries will be limited to between Chongqing and Yichang, Hubei province. Departure and transit ports and destinations will need to be at low risk for COVID-19, crew will be tested before embarking and vessel capacity will be capped at 50 percent.

Two lines, Chongqing-based Century Cruises and Huaxia Goddess Deluxe Cruise, plan to begin sailing in mid-August.

New Viking vessel for the Mekong next year

Rivers giant Viking will introduce Viking Saigon next summer for its “Magnificent Mekong” cruise-tour. Currently under construction, the 80-passenger vessel is scheduled to debut for the Aug. 30 departure.

Small ship Viking Saigon debut

The 80-passenger Viking Saigon is scheduled to debut in August 2021. * Rendering: Viking

The river portion of this cruise-tour sails between Kampong Cham, Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

While the interiors of many Mekong vessels are dripping in dark mahogany and other local design elements, Viking Saigon will sport the light and modern Scandinavian look characteristic of Viking’s wider fleet. The triple-deck boat will offer a spa & fitness center, infinity pool and open-air Sky Bar on the top deck.

The 40 outside cabins will have hotel-style beds and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors with a veranda or French balcony. The Explorer Suites are especially roomy with big corner balconies affording sweeping views.

Viking Mekong in the Small-Ship Sector

Imagine gazing at the Mekong from this Explorer Suite balcony on Viking Saigon. * Rendering: Viking

Small-Ship Viking Mekong

Viking Saigon interiors will have Scandinavian design. Here, a veranda cabin. * Rendering: Viking

Viking’s 15-day “Magnificent Mekong” explores the cultural treasures of Vietnam and Cambodia with 16 guided tours. Hotel stays in Hanoi, Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City bookend the eight-day cruise.

During the land portion, travelers can shop in Old Hanoi’s markets; explore the Khmer temple complex of Angkor Wat; visit Ta Prohm, where trees sprout from ancient ruins; and see the sights of Phnom Penh by cyclo rickshaw. The cruise affords visits to silk towns, fishing villages, monasteries and floating markets.

Pricing starts at $5,299USD per person, with discounted airfare from $1,199 per person.

For Asia sailings this year, Pandaw River Cruises plans to restart in September, as separately reported here.

Pandaw's small ship Champa Pandaw

The 28-passenger Champa Pandaw. * Photo: Pandaw

Coral Expeditions to restart Great Barrier Reef cruises

Meanwhile, in Australia, domestic line Coral Expeditions plans to begin operating in mid-October with Great Barrier Reef sailings from Cairns.

These seven-night adventures on the yacht-like Coral Discoverer will be open to Australians (and the crew are Australian, too). The vessel will carry just 72 passengers and adhere to the company’s SailSAFE protocols developed in partnership with health emergency specialist Respond Global.

Coral Expeditions Commercial Director Jeff Gillies told Seatrade Cruise News all permissions and protocols are in place to begin these cruises Oct. 14.

Coral Expeditions is in the small-ship sector

Coral Expeditions’ Jeff Gillies said the line has permission to resume sailing from Cairns. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Windstar delay in French Polynesia

Windstar Cruises had planned to restart service with Wind Spirit in Tahiti on Sept. 10. French Polynesia opened to all travelers on July 15.

But Windstar just pushed its date back to Oct. 5 in order to respect the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order through Sept. 30. The line wasn’t required to do that since the CDC order applies only to sailings to or from the United States.

But a Windstar spokeswoman said the decision was taken voluntarily since most of its customers come from the U.S.

The 148-passenger Wind Spirit will sail seven-day round-trips from Papeete, Tahiti, and a variety of longer cruises that add the Tuamotu Islands.

small-ship sector includes Windstar Tahiti

Travelers will have to wait a little longer to sail Wind Spirit in Tahiti. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Windstar has developed a “Beyond Ordinary Care” program in partnership with the epidemiology department at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Center to address travelers’ health concerns.

Elements include pre-trip health screening, hospital-grade HEPA filters to clean the air (plus the extra step of of UV-C ultraviolet germicidal irradiation), enhanced cleaning, more open-air dining options and reduced capacity in restaurants and on tours.

Janssonius keel-laying ceremony

In expedition new build news, Oceanwide Expeditions celebrated the keel-laying for Janssonius, the sister of 2019’s Hondius. This marked the start of construction at Brodosplit shipyard in Split, Croatia.

small ship Oceanwide Expeditions' Janssonius

The keel is laid for Oceanwide Expeditions’ Janssonius. * Photo: Oceanwide Expeditions

Janssonius is being built to Polar Class 6 standard and has capacity for 170 passengers in 80 cabins and 72 crew. The ship is named after Dutch cartographer Jan Janssonius.

Netherlands-based polar specialist Oceanwide, which markets its cruises internationally, plans to introduce Janssonius in November next year for the 2021/22 Antarctica season. One expedition features a solar eclipse. This Nov. 25-Dec. 14, 2021 trek visits the Falkland Islands and South Georgia as well as the Antarctic peninsula.

Quark’s Ultramarine due in spring 2021

Quark Expeditions‘ first owned new build, Ultramarine, is also under construction at Brodosplit. It had originally been announced for the 2020/21 Antarctica season but instead is going to start sailing in the northern spring 2021 in the Arctic.

The 199-passenger Ultramarine will be managed by V.Ships Leisure, one of the world’s leading ship management companies, with decades of experience.

Quark President Andrew White touted Ultramarine as an “unrivaled base for polar adventure” with its a pair of twin-engine helicopters, 20 quick-launching Zodiacs and a robust portfolio of off-ship adventures such as heli-hiking, heli-skiing, flightseeing, alpine kayaking and an ice sheet experience.

Quark's small ship Ultramarine in Antarctica

Quark Expeditions’ Ultramarine is scheduled to debut in the Arctic in spring 2021. * Rendering: Quark Expeditions

Bye-bye, Bremen. Hello, Seaventure

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has decided not to return its oldest vessel, Bremen, to service this year following the COVID-19 suspension of operations.

The German company said it won’t be able to implement strict social distancing rules and new hygiene measures aboard the 164-passenger ship, which has been in service since 1993. Bremen had been scheduled to leave Hapag-Lloyd in 2021, when new build Hanseatic Spirit arrives.

As announced last year, Bremen was sold to Switzerland’s family-owned river-cruise operator Scylla AG to sail as Seaventure for its new VIVA Cruises brand as Scylla branches into ocean cruising.

The ship will be marketed internationally. Its maiden voyage is planned to embark May 15 in Amsterdam, sailing to Warnemünde, Germany. After that, Seaventure will explore the Baltic Sea, then Iceland and Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland, Iceland and Canada, and South America.

Scylla is now considering taking Bremen early, but nothing has been decided.

Hapag-Lloyd's small ship Bremen

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises decided not to bring Bremen back into service. * Photo: Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

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Viking Mississippi River Debut

Viking Mississippi River Debut for 2022

by Anne Kalosh.

It has been a long time coming but river-cruise giant Viking plans to begin plying the Mississippi in August 2022. The line is going big and modern with a 386-passenger, five-deck vessel it’s building in Louisiana. [The passenger count is above QuirkyCruise’s 300 cut-off,  but we make exceptions sometimes as we want to report on this!]

Named Viking Mississippi, the vessel is inspired by Viking’s existing river and ocean ships and will feature clean Scandinavian design along with public spaces that are familiar to brand loyalists but reimagined for the Mississippi.

And “no paddlewheels — real or fake,” Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen said.

Viking Mississippi River Debut

Viking Mississippi — five decks high and modern design with no paddlewheel. * Rendering: Viking

Viking itineraries cover Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Asia and Egypt. Yet Hagen said loyalists continue to list the Mississippi as “the river they most want to sail with us.” It is “closer to home for many of our guests,” he continued, “and no other waterway has played such an important role in America’s history, commerce and culture.”

Lower & Upper Mississippi

Viking Mississippi will sail the Lower and Upper Mississippi, between New Orleans and St. Paul, Minnesota. Ports currently scheduled span seven states: Louisiana (besides New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Darrow and St. Francisville), Mississippi (Natchez and Vicksburg), Tennessee (Memphis), Missouri (Hannibal, St. Louis), Iowa (Burlington, Dubuque and Davenport), Wisconsin (La Crosse and Red Wing) and Minnesota (St. Paul).

The core itineraries are eight days and include “America’s Heartland,” cruising between St. Louis and St. Paul. This Upper Mississippi voyage sails past farms nestled in rolling terrain and steep bluffs rising from tributaries dotted with wooded islands, and traverses locks and dams. Travelers will hear stories about westward migration, Lewis and Clark, Mark Twain, John Deere, and the Amish and Norwegian settlements. They’ll experience regional music like polka and Norwegian folk and taste local beer, produce and Wisconsin cheese.

Exploring the Lower Mississippi, “Heart of the Delta,” between New Orleans and Memphis, delves into areas where the French and Acadians settled, the Civil Rights movement and the music of the South — jazz, blues and gospel. Travelers will get to dine on Cajun and creole dishes and Memphis dry-style barbecue, rubbed with salt and spices.

“Southern Celebration,” cruising New Orleans-Vicksburg-New Orleans, also explores the Lower Mississippi, affording visits to historic homes in Louisiana and Mississippi. There will be opportunities to learn about Civil War history and tour sites like Vicksburg National Military Park. As well, travelers can discover the distinct flavors of New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The 15-day “America’s Great River” spans nearly the full length of the Mississippi, between New Orleans and St. Paul. Viking Mississippi will travel from the Gulf of Mexico to the northernmost reaches of the U.S. This journey will present a variety of scenery, foliage and wildlife. Travelers can tour plantation houses in Natchez, retrace the steps of Civil Rights leaders in Memphis, ascend the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and visit “The Norwegian Valley” in La Crosse.

Big Views & Alfresco Dining

Viking Mississippi will sport expansive windows and a 360-degree promenade close to the water on Deck 1. A two-story Explorers’ Lounge is situated high up and facing forward adjacent to The Bow, an outdoor seating area with big river views.

Viking Mississippi River Boat's Explorer Lounge

The Viking Mississippi’s Explorer’s Lounge on Deck 1. * Rendering: Viking

An Aquavit Terrace on the top deck, ideal for American-style barbecues, and an indoor-outdoor River Cafe will provide ample alfresco dining opportunities. Besides American classics, the River Cafe will serve Norwegian specialties, recalling the Mamsen’s deli venues on Viking’s ocean ships.

The Viking Mississippi River Cafe

The Viking Mississippi River Cafe. * Rendering: Viking

A glass-backed pool will be situated aft on the Sun Terrace.

The Living Room on Deck 1 is designed for socializing, relaxing and entertainment, with a quiet corner housing a library.

Viking on the Mississippi

The Viking Mississippi Living Room. * Rendering: Viking

The Restaurant, the main dining venue, is also situated on Deck 1, and will serve daily-changing menus of regional dishes and always-available classics prepared with fresh, local ingredients.

Viking Mississippi's main restaurant

The main restaurant aboard the Viking Mississippi. * Rendering: Viking

Verandas or French Balconies

With 193 all-outside staterooms, Viking Mississippi has seven accommodations categories ranging from 268 square feet to 1,024 square feet. All have a private veranda or French balcony, king-size bed with luxury linens, large flat-screen interactive TV, mini-bar, large glass-enclosed shower, heated bathroom floor and 24-hour room service.

Viking Mississippi's Deluxe Veranda cabin

The Viking Mississippi’s Deluxe Veranda Stateroom. * Rendering: Viking

The top-of-the-line Viking Suites have two rooms and a full-size veranda off the spacious sitting room. Travelers in Penthouse Junior Suites (400 square feet) and Terrace Suites (425 square feet) get early room access, expanded double-sink bathroom, mini-bar with alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, water and snacks replenished daily, welcome champagne and laundry, pressing and shoeshine services. Those in Explorer Suites (657 square feet to 1,024 square feet) additionally have a wraparound veranda and included Silver Spirits Beverage Package.

Viking Mississippi Penthouse Terrace Suite

The Viking Mississippi’s Penthouse Terrace Suite. * Rendering: Viking

Viking Mississippi's Forward Explorer's Suite aboard Viking Mississippi

Viking Mississippi’s Forward Explorer’s Suite Living Room on Deck 3. * Rendering: Viking

Enrichment and ‘Privileged Access’

Viking will extend its noted on-board enrichment program to the U.S. heartland. Destination performances are to showcase regional music, and guest lecturers will expand on art, architecture, history, culture and the natural world. “Privileged Access Local Life and Working World” experiences will open doors to places otherwise difficult to visit.

Travelers can take a guided kayaking trip in the Louisiana bayou, visit a working farm near the Quad Cities or immerse themselves in Cajun culture during a Privileged Access excursion to the Rural Life Museum of Louisiana State University.

RELATED: Viking to Offer “Privileged Access” Excursions to Egypt River Cruises. 

Inclusive Pricing

Cruise fares include one shore excursion in each port of call, alternative dining, all port charges and government taxes, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, self-service launderettes, 24-hour room service and Wi-Fi.

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Cruise Operations 'Pause' for Coronavirus

Cruise Operations ‘Pause’ for Coronavirus

By Anne Kalosh.

(Note: Anne is the Editor, Seatrade Cruise News & Senior Associate Editor, Seatrade Cruise Review, and we share some of her breaking Seatrade coverage below.)

Big cruise ships have been in the headlines because of coronavirus quarantines, port restrictions and temporarily suspended operations.

In recent days the Quirky Cruise part of the business — vessels carrying up to 300 passengers — has come into the picture, too. There have only been a handful of passengers reported with COVID-19 on small ships. But a growing number of lines are proactively suspending operations as part of the global effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Fluid Situation

The situation is extremely fluid, with announcements and changes almost by the hour. In some cases, current itineraries are being completed before operations stop. In others, ships are disembarking passengers as soon as possible.

European river giant Viking was the first to announce, on March 11, that it would halt sailings of all its river and oceangoing cruise fleets the following day, until May 1.

RELATED: March 16 Update of Coronavirus-related Cruise News … by Anne Kalosh.

SUBSCRIBE to QuirkyCruise.com for updates and special offers.

Travel is “Exceedingly Complicated”

As Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen said, COVID-19 has made travel “exceedingly complicated,” with an increasing number of ports closed to cruise ships. As well, major attractions and museums are shuttered, and a growing number of countries are imposing restrictions on public gatherings and visitors.

Cruise Operations 'Pause' for Coronavirus

Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen said travel is ‘exceedingly complicated.” * Photo: Viking

Viking’s move was quickly followed by other high-profile river lines, including AmaWaterways, which delayed the start of its European cruise season until April 26. At the same time, Ama’s Mekong River cruises would be suspended “starting March 23.”

RELATED:  Viking Halts River & Ocean Operations until May 1 … by Anne Kalosh.

Subsequently Cambodia, which together with Vietnam provides the core of the itinerary, announced it would block international river cruises from March 13 until further notice, according to tour operator Destinations Asia.

Avalon Waterways and other brands in the Globus family suspended travel across all destinations through April 30. A-ROSA Cruises has also temporarily halted its Danube, Seine and Rhone itineraries; CroisiEurope has a suspension in place until April 15; and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises just announced a service suspension.

Avalon Waterways pauses for Coronavirus

Avalon Waterways is giving a bonus credit of $200 for rebooking. Avalon Envision is pictured in Budapest. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

Even U.S. domestic operator American Queen Steamboat Co. halted, with service planned to resume April 12.

RELATED: Disney, Windstar, AmaWaterways, Avalon & Celestyal Pause Operations … by Anne Kalosh.

Windstar Cruises

Small-ship line Windstar Cruises, too, stopped departures embarking from March 14 through April.

On March 14, Cruise Lines International Association, whose members include the bulk of the cruise industry globally, said all its oceangoing lines would quit sailing from and to U.S. ports in a 30-day hiatus.

RELATED: All CLIA Ocean-going Lines Suspend Cruises to/from US Ports … by Anne Kalosh.

Destinations Turn Away Ships

Meanwhile, a growing number of places around the globe are blocking cruise ships. In most cases, the restrictions are temporary, for set periods like a couple weeks or 30 days, however some orders are open-ended.

Many of these places are popular small-ship destinations, including French Polynesia, which ordered ships based in Papeete, Tahiti, to return without delay to disembark travelers so they can return home.

RELATED: French Polynesia Stops Cruise Calls Until April 11 … by Anne Kalosh.

Countries turning away cruises for now include Italy, Monaco, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, and British Virgin Islands.

RELATED: New Zealand’s ‘Toughest Border Restrictions of Anywhere in the World’ … by Anne Kalosh.

Canada’s ban, which lasts until July, exempts small ships carrying up to 500 people (passengers and crew). Certain ports in Norway are saying “no” to cruise calls, as well.

RELATED: Canada Blocks Cruise Calls by Ships Over 500 People until July … by Anne Kalosh.

Compensation Varies

Cruise lines are trying to do their part in the global fight against coronavirus, and travelers can be supportive by not canceling trips but, instead, taking advantage of offers to postpone to future dates, even in future years.

Most operators are offering incentives to do that. The deals vary widely.

Just a few examples: Within the March 12 to April 30 period Viking isn’t operating, it’s dangling a future cruise voucher valued at 125 percent. Passengers will have 24 months to use their voucher to reserve any river, ocean or expedition cruise. The policy is identical for Windstar, which aims to resume sailing May 1.

AmaWaterways is offering a future cruise credit of 115 percent. And Avalon is giving a bonus credit of $200 per person for a new reservation, redeemable for any future 2020, 2021 or 2022 vacation.

Windstar Cruises is offering future cruise credits of 125 percent for people who postpone, instead of canceling. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

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American Melody new for American Cruise Lines

What’s New At American Cruise Lines.

By Anne Kalosh.

U.S. river cruising is getting more and more interesting.

With European powerhouse Viking poised to enter the Mississippi market, there’s going to be a wider choice of brands. And with American Queen Steamboat Co. (AQSC) growing its paddle-wheel fleet and American Cruise Lines its modern-style vessels, travelers can pick classic or contemporary.

American Cruise Lines recently announced the acceleration of its new build program on strong demand for the modern-style boats and continues a “Cruise Close To Home” marketing campaign.

Viking Foray

This comes as AQSC introduces its fourth paddle-wheeler, American Countess, in late March and as Viking is ready to reveal its long-awaited plans for the U.S. (Check back here after April 7 for details.)

American’s reaction to Viking’s entrance?

“It’s good. It just brings more exposure to the market and increases the visibility of river cruising in the country,” said Charles B. Robertson, who succeeded his late father as CEO of American in February. “We’ve built our own market and will continue to define our own market. We’ve got a different market and there’s enough business for both of us.”

AQSC, he added, “has a different product also and is attracting a different segment.”

American Cruise Lines CEO

American Cruise Lines new CEO Charles B. Robertson. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

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Small Ships, Big Appeal

The fact that multiple brands are thriving stateside shows “There’s such a big market out there … People are realizing river cruises are available and are fantastic in this country.”

One challenge when American started was just educating people that about cruising on America’s rivers. Now, with availability of modern boats like those in Europe, “There is more appeal. We’re really getting the message out,” Robertson said.

American Jazz begins sailing the Mississippi in the third quarter this year, bringing the fleet to 12, and the decision was recently made to add two new builds — up from one — in 2021. American Melody’s inaugural was moved forward to June from September next year, and construction just began on a sister vessel.

Though nothing has been announced, Robertson wouldn’t be surprised if two more new builds also follow in 2022.

A competitive strength for American Cruise Lines is the ability to build at affiliated company Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland. The facility has five hull fabrication buildings and more than 1,000 feet of deep-water bulkhead to build and outfit multiple ships at the same time.

Robertson said American continues tweaking things with each new build, making small improvements. Passenger capacity will stay under 200, though, an “important threshold” to enable the delivery of the small-ship experience the line’s known for.

(And this fits nicely into the QuirkyCruise focus on vessels carrying up to 300 passengers.)

American Song

American Song on the Columbia River. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Big Rooms, Lots of Glass

Robertson said accommodations on American’s modern-style boats are 70 percent larger than the average European river vessel, while suites may be double the size. Balconies have gotten larger, and have more furniture (table and chairs), with the bigger suites adding chaise lounges.

The real distinction, though, is the design aesthetic. There are large glass areas to let in light and provide better views — so vital for river cruising. The colors are more contemporary, the exercise room is larger and a yoga venue added. Besides the single-seating dining room, a top deck café serves casual fare like burgers, salads and pizza.

Pricing is inclusive. Mississippi, Columbia/Snake rivers and Alaska programs include an excursion at every port; more extra-cost tours are available in New England.

American Cruise Lines balcony view

Balcony view. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

No More Paddle-Wheelers for Now

American doesn’t currently plan to build more paddle-wheelers, having switched focus to the modern-style boats with American Song in 2018, continuing with American Harmony in 2019.

“We love the paddle-wheelers we have and will continue to operate them, and there’s a fabulous market for them,” Robertson said. “But the modern riverboat style is where we see a concentration of demand and market appeal.”

This type of vessel better appeals to the younger end of American’s market, where future growth lies. But Robertson was quick to state it’s “critical we don’t alienate the older end of the market, and we’ve seen they’re comfortable with either style: traditional or modern. We were concerned our loyal passenger base might not like the modern style as much and are thrilled that’s not the case.”

American Melody new for American Cruise Lines

American Melody — One of two modern-style riverboats coming in 2021. * Rendering: American Cruise Lines

Two by Two

Next year American will field two modern-style boats and two paddle-wheelers both on the Mississippi and in the Pacific Northwest.

American Harmony will shift from the Mississippi to the Columbia/Snake, joining American Song and a pair of paddle-wheelers. American Melody will replace American Harmony on the Mississippi, joining American Jazz and two paddle-wheelers.

Cruise Close to Home

Many lines have stopped advertising due to uncertainties surrounding coronavirus. American continues its “Cruise Close To Home” marketing begun in November.

Ninety percent of the U.S. mainland population can drive to an American cruise within a “reasonable amount of time,” according to Robertson. That cuts out the need to get on a plane.

ACL’s “Cruise Close To Home” marketing campaign.

Coronavirus

“We are definitely affected by [coronavirus], but it’s having less impact than on the rest of the industry,” he said. “We’re insulated a bit by virtue of the smaller ships and entirely domestic itineraries. We’re dealing with it like the rest of the industry and, yes, we take it absolutely seriously.”

American adheres to Cruise Lines International Association policy and procedures to avoid transmission of the virus.

Some travelers whose overseas cruises were canceled have come to American as an alternative. “That’s not something we’re promoting,” Robertson said. “We’re not looking to be opportunistic.”QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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Viking Jupiter's terrace

Viking Jupiter

By Judi Cohen.

I am a small-ship “connoisseur” accustomed to ships under 300 passengers, which is how QuirkyCruise.com defines a small-ship cruise. However, when presented with the opportunity to cruise on Viking’s new 930-passenger Viking Jupiter in the Baltic Sea I immediately said “yes!”

Having never visited Russia, seeing St. Petersburg on the 8-night Baltic itinerary was a major draw. While it wasn’t exactly a “small-ship,” it featured the advantages of larger ships, while also offering some of the intimacy and highly personalized service of a true small-ship. I like to think of it as a “small big-ship.”

Viking Jupiter

The new Viking Jupiter. * Photo: Judi Cohen

The Viking Jupiter took us from Stockholm to Berlin, with stops at the ports of Helsinki, Tallinn and Gdansk. The historical and gilded riches of St. Petersburg, of course, were the big draw for most passengers.

My two-day visit to St. Petersburg provided just a taste of the city’s rich art, architecture and history. I hope to return to do a true small-ship river cruise, on the Volga River, and see more of Russia, including Moscow.

Russia cruise with Viking

Judi and Lawrence at the Church of the Spilled Blood. * Photo: Judi Cohen

In the spirit of Quirky Cruise’s small-ship ethos, Russia’s Volga River cruises are an ideal way to visit both Moscow and St. Petersburg in combination with a Baltic itinerary. Small-ship cruises to this region are offered by various cruise companies including a 13-day Viking cruise on one of their five 200-passenger boats.

Meanwhile, Ponant Cruises and Tauck both operate 12-day small-ship Russia/Baltic Sea cruises using Ponant’s 184-passenger Le Dumont D’Urville with two full days in St. Petersburg. Emerald Waterways does a 12-day river cruise on the 224-passenger MS Rosia with stops in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

6 “Small Ship” Moments on the Viking Jupiter

While the Viking Jupiter has features you would typically find on larger ships including a variety of dining choices, numerous bars with live entertainment, and a luxurious Nordic spa with gym and treatment rooms, the ship felt intimate and uncrowded giving it a small-ship feel.

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#1: Optional Small-group Shore Excursions

In St. Petersburg we chose to pay for two small-group tours in addition to taking the panoramic coach tour of St. Petersburg that was included at no extra cost (Viking offers one free tour option in every port). We did a full-day “Behind Closed Doors” tour of the 18th-century Hermitage Museums and a half-day walking tour of the 1950-era St. Petersburg metro system, museum-like itself.

With only 13 guests on each tour, they were similar to excursions and tours I have done on previous small-ship cruises.

 Winter Palace Hermitage Museum

The gorgeous Winter Palace Hermitage Museum. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Hermitage museum entrance

Entrance staircase in the Hermitage Museum. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Our Hermitage Museum guide was knowledgeable about architecture and art history, and contributed to our learning and enjoyment. Our guide during the metro tour, which was a highlight for me, led us into the system to see some of the oldest stations that were built as “palaces of the people” rich in Soviet history, with their fascinating art and sculpture.

St Petersburg Metro System

Kirovsky Zavod Station, part of the stunning metro system. * Photo; Judi Cohen

St Petersburg metro stations

Avtovo Station light fixtures. * Photo: Judi Cohen

These small-group excursions felt much like the tours I have enjoyed on other small-ship cruises along the Mekong and Irrawaddy with Pandaw and the Brahmaputra River with India-based Adventure River Cruises. As on these smaller ships, on board the Viking Jupiter, there were many opportunities to immerse myself in the artistic and historical presentations offered on board by local experts. There was even a magical performance one evening in the ship’s Star Theatre by the famous Russian Mariinsky Theatre.

Other passengers told me about the small-group premium excursions they took (ranging from about $75 to $300 per person), including a tour of the Stutthof concentration camp in Gdansk, Poland; reindeer feeding in Nuuksio National Park; and a bicycle tour in Helsinki, Finland. Several premium excursions at additional cost were offered in every port.

#2: Private Balcony in our Cabin

Our cabin had a private balcony that provided a quiet and private place to relax, read and reflect. It reminded me of smaller ships I’ve been on that also had private balconies, including the 195-passenger Viking Einar that I cruised on along the Rhine River in 2019.

RELATED: Cruising on the new Viking Einar … by Judi Cohen

balcony of Viking Jupiter

Judi’s husband Lawrence on their cabin balcony. * Photo: Judi Cohen

#3:  Intimate Dining Experiences

Mamsen’s is a small take-away café aboard the Jupiter named in honor of Viking founder Torstein Hagen’s mother. Located on Deck 7 in the Explorers Lounge, serving light traditional Scandinavian dishes, snacks and pastries, it was never crowded and became our go-to spot for early breakfast and light bites throughout the day.

With comfortable seating in sofas or at tables with chairs, Mamsen’s felt very warm, welcoming and cozy…and the open face shrimp sandwiches and signature waffles were delicious!

waffels aboard the Viking Jupiter

Mamsen’s signature Scandinavian waffle. * Photo: Judi Cohen

 #4: Afternoon Tea

Like many of the small European river boats, traditional high tea was served every afternoon in the Wintergarden Conservatory on Deck 7. Separated from the pool by floor-to-ceiling glass doors, I found the Wintergarden to be one of the most beautiful areas on the ship. The blonde wood ornamentation looked like trees climbing the pillars and covering the roof and created the feeling of being in a forest!

afternoon tea on the Viking Jupiter

Afternoon Tea in the Wintergarden on Deck 7. * Photo: Judi Cohen

#5: Explorers Lounge

The Jupiter had many comfortable and quiet sitting areas with books neatly organized on library shelves. However, we kept going back to the Explorers Lounge on Deck 7 and the upper level above it, called the Observation Lounge, to read, rest, have a snack or drink, or watch the waves through the expansive windows.

While seated in the sofas, complete with fur throws, we could also enjoy the warmth from the faux fireplaces. I never felt like I was on a large ship in these lounges.

Explorer's Lounge on Jupiter

The lovely ocean-view Explorers Lounge. * Photo: Judi Cohen

#6: Musicians in the Atrium

The multi-level atrium typical of big ships, felt cozy each evening when a pianist or a trio of musicians played sweet music there for hours. The Viking Bar and the surrounding Living Room lounge, that actually felt like our own living room at home, drew us back nightly for pre-dinner cocktails  and again following dinner.

After only one night aboard, the musicians welcomed us back warmly and it felt like they were playing just for us! Very few other passengers were there in the evenings, which made it feel even more intimate.

musicians on Viking Jupiter

Musicians performing nightly on Deck 1. * Photo: Judi Cohen

For anyone who wants to get the best of a larger cruise ship with many of the benefits of a small ship, I would recommend the Viking Jupiter.

The Jupiter’s attentive personal service, small-group shore excursions options, cozy and comfortable lounge areas with music, and casual dining all combined to create a wonderful “small-ship” feeling.

The added bonus was having some “big-ship” features such as a spa, gym and multiple pools, plus 24-hour room service so we could enjoy refreshments on our private balcony. Having been teased with the history and riches of St. Petersburg for only two days, I am ready to go back to experience Russia in depth!

Viking Jupiter's terrace

On the Aquavit Terrace leaving Stockholm. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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Afforable European River Cruises

Affordable European River Cruises

By Ted Scull.

Our regular visitors to QuirkyCruise know full well that small-ship cruising does not come cheaply. In many cases, it can be downright expensive and beyond one’s means.

Today’s massive cruise ships have economies of scale, though remember that the fares listed may only include passage and meals.

Meanwhile, many river cruises — the subject of this column — include quite a lot in the base price, hence comparisons are more like watermelons and tangerines.

So what is in the price you might pay to sail the Rhine, Rhone, Main, Moselle, Danube or Douro?

First-time searchers will be amazed at the almost complete absence of nickel and diming, especially if you are a deep-sea cruiser who has recently decided to try the calm waters of rivers and canals.

Rhine River Family Cruises

It’s a castle fest on the middle Rhine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Europe River Cruising: What’s Included & What’s Not?

Most river lines include a daily shore excursion and that’s a big-ticket item on most mainstream mega cruise ships. They may range from $50 to $100 dollars and maybe more. Multiply that by the number of days you plan to take one; it adds up big time.

So, on mainstream big-ship cruises, you might not take an excursion in every port to save money; but then you’ll see less.

On a week’s river cruise, on the other hand, you will have at least six port calls. And especially if you have not been to any of them before, you can go on all the excursions you desire, as the outings are included in the fares.

Many river lines also include house wine and beer with lunch and dinner, plus soft drinks, bottled water in the cabins, and coffee and tea.

Of course, those who like a beer or glass of wine with lunch and perhaps share a bottle of wine at dinner will benefit most. Do the math. A glass of wine may be $8-15 and a bottle from about $25 and up for low-end table wines.

Affordable European River Cruises

Wine is included on most European river cruises. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Gratuities may also be included on a river cruise and coverage often takes in all the staff on board, guides ashore and drivers, if a bus is involved. On oceangoing ships, tips are often automatically billed to one’s account. They may amount to roughly $12-15 per person per day for the onboard staff plus tips you dish out to guides and bus drivers ashore.

Many river lines will also include the transfers between the airport and ship, and with any pre- or post-cruise hotel stays. Of course, some mainstream big-ship cruise lines may also, if you have booked their air package.

Europe River Cruise Rates

Now what are the reasonable per diem (daily) rates that will hopefully include most of the aforesaid?

A line’s brochure and website rates are often published a year or more in advance and may be just a starting point. A seven-night European Danube cruise will show that rates vary by dates, often with the early spring and late fall fares being lower than the June to September high season. The ports visited during an off-season departure will also be less crowded.

When bookings are slow for some sailings, even in August, there may be a discounted rate for that sailing. Or, if several are offered, you may be enticed by an air allotment or fully-paid economy airfare to and from certain cities and the embarkation port.

The river lines supply the international airlines with huge passenger numbers, so they can negotiate lower rates than most travelers can, notwithstanding using your own air miles. If you don’t live near an airport with direct flights to and from the riverboat, and even if you do, you may have to change planes once or even twice. Never fun, but them’s the real world of bucket fares.

Viking Debuting 7 New River Vessels

A Viking Longship on the Main River. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

Europe River Cruise Early-Booking Fares

Early-booking cruise rates usually have a cutoff date, and the period from mid-January through February may see enticing offers as the lines will already know how the year is faring.

On the other hand, last-minute booking fares may interest some who are veteran travelers. And I don’t mean the retired folks who show up at the pier in Miami on sailing day to hopefully get a huge windfall for an empty cabin. I’m talking about discounts on a cabin that will otherwise go un-sold and generate zero onboard revenue for that cruise.

For instance, say, it’s Valentine’s Day and the boat is leaving from Amsterdam, Paris or Vienna in late April or early May and has lots of open cabins. The river cruise line gives you a deal and books your air. And you pack your bag, deal with the dog or cat, make sure the bills are paid, and off you go.  You may not be able to turn down such a great deal, and so you’ll surely make your potential travel mate very happy.

Afforable European River Cruises

Europe river cruising in the fall by bicycle. * Photo: Peter Knego

Here They Are … A List of Affordable Europe River Cruises

So here’s what you have been waiting for…🥁🥁…drum roll …

The most affordable Europe cruises start as low as $200 a day per person sharing a double cabin and range on up to still-not-half-bad $300 to $350 per person a day.

Remember to check what’s included.

The lines in alphabetical order that generally offer rates within this range:

➢➢ Avalon Waterways

➢➢ CroisiEurope Cruises

➢➢ Grand Circle

➢➢ Vantage World Travel

➢➢ Viking River Cruises

Other lines may also bring rates way down on occasion, so have a look at their offers too. The best way to keep up to date is to sign up for lines’ email newsletter. Then pounce.

Affordable European River Cruises

Vantage River Cruises is one of the more affordable European River Cruises. * Photo: Vantage River Cruises

So What Do You Get?

Okay, where is your cabin located? The answer may not surprise you, and you may be pleased, unless you are used to traveling with your silver spoon. Several of my cruises have been with a cabin in the least expensive category, sleeping on the lowest deck.

Afforable European River Cruises

Avalon Visionary shows a line of small windowed cabins on the lowest deck. * Photo: Avalon Waterways

This will not be an inside cabin such as on a big cruise ship (because river boats don’t have them), but one with a porthole or small window that gives you light and a view just above waterline. If the boat had lots of space when you booked, it may be higher up with a step out or full balcony.

Remember, riverboats are small vessels, and a climb of one or maximum two decks will get you to a great viewing location. And most of your day will be either on a trip ashore, sitting up on deck or dining in a panoramic restaurant.

Go fetch that deal and see the castles along the Rhine, the landscapes and villages that captivated Impressionist painters, and the elegant cities along the Danube.

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Viking Debuting 7 New River Vessels

Viking Debuting 7 New River Vessels.

By Anne Kalosh.

Powerhouse Viking River Cruises is introducing seven new Longships on Europe’s waterways this year, plus two new itineraries and a bevy of land extensions.

Seven new vessels is a whopping number—but not for Viking. In 2014, the line introduced a jaw-dropping 18 river vessels and set a Guinness World Record by inaugurating 16 of them in a 24-hour period. That bested its own record of 10 the year before.

Viking Debuting 7 New River Vessels

A Viking Longship on the Main River in front of Johannisburg Palace, Aschaffenburg, Germany. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

But who’s counting?

For QuirkyCruisers, each new river vessel means more choices and, in 2019, a couple fresh itineraries. Moreover, a variety of land tours give the opportunity to delve into interesting topics like Churchill’s Britain and Burgundy’s vineyards.

Six of the new Viking Longships will sail the company’s most popular itineraries on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, and one additional vessel, inspired by the Longships, is designed for Portugal’s Douro, where the locks are smaller.

Viking Debuting 7 New River Vessels

One of the new 2019 vessels has a modified design to operate on Portugal’s Douro River. Pictured here is home port Porto. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

New “Holland & Belgium” Itinerary

Debuting in March, the 10-day “Holland & Belgium” itinerary sails between Amsterdam and Antwerp. It explores the inland waterways of the Low Countries and visits new ports for Viking: Rotterdam, Maastricht and Nijmegen.

“Paris & D-Day 75th Anniversary”

Also, in commemoration of World War II and D-Day, the line will offer a new 11-day cruise-tour, “Paris & D-Day 75th Anniversary,” with two special departures that coincide with the June 6 anniversary. Passengers will travel from London to the maritime city of Portsmouth before embarking their vessel in Paris and sailing through Normandy, where they will visit and honor D-Day landing sites.

New Pre-/Post-cruise Extensions

“Churchill’s Britain” can be combined with various itineraries and builds on the success of the “Oxford & Highclere Castle” program, Viking’s highest-rated extension that visits “the real Downton Abbey.” Travelers will explore the life and times of Sir Winston Churchill, from his birthplace (Blenheim Palace) and his family home (at Chartwell) to his final resting place (St. Martin’s Church in Bladon).

During the five-night program, participants will benefit from Viking’s signature “Privileged Access” to the Churchill War Rooms, the prime minister’s secret underground headquarters and Bletchley Park. The latter is the Victorian estate in Buckinghamshire where Alan Turing and a team of mathematicians and scientists worked to break German codes during World War II.

Two nights in Brussels can be added to the “Holland & Belgium” itinerary. “Historic Bruges,” another option for that itinerary, adds a three-night stay in Bruges with visits to the surrounding area including Ghent and the World War I battlefields of Flanders.

Viking Debuting 7 New River Vessels

The view is great from the Aquavit Terrace of a Viking Longship. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

During “From the Bulge to Remagen,” a four-night extension available with the “Paris & D-Day 75th Anniversary” itinerary, travelers will continue to follow in the footsteps of Allied troops who marched across France toward Germany during World Wars I and II. Stops include the Meuse-Argonne and Luxembourg American Cemeteries, the Bastogne War Museum in Belgium and the ancient city of Mainz.

Another extension for the same anniversary sailing, “World War Battlefields” is a four-night program exploring the battlefields of northern France and the Low Countries. Included are Dunkirk, the trenches of Flanders Fields and an opportunity to pay respects to British and Canadian servicemen at the Menin Gate.

Available after the “Lyon & Provence” cruise, “Burgundy’s Vineyards” is a three-night tour to experience the grandeur of Dijon and the world-renowned wine region of Burgundy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

And “Timeless Istanbul” extends Viking’s Black Sea cruise program with three nights in the city on the Bosphorus.

Viking Longships

Each of the sleek, 135-meter/443-foot Viking Longships carries 190 passengers in a selection of staterooms and suites, most with verandas. A Sun Deck with 360-degree views has a shaded area, putting green, walking track and an organic herb garden used by the chefs. An Aquavit Terrace at the bow of the vessel provides indoor/outdoor seating and is popular for alfresco breakfast and lunch. A separate restaurant, lounge and bar, library and small shop round out the amenities. The décor throughout is contemporary Scandinavian.

A Viking Longship veranda cabin. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

Viking is known for its cultural programming on board and for good value. Fares include a shore excursion at each port of call, all port charges and government taxes, beer and wine with lunch and dinner and shipboard Wi-Fi.

 

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Viking River Cruises Now Adults Only

Viking River Cruises Now Adults Only

Viking Ocean Cruises, the deep-sea fleet, has had a policy for about two years that no one under the age of 18 will be accepted as a passenger, and now, the adults-only policy has been extended to its huge fleet of riverboats — Viking River Cruises. The passenger has to have reached 18 on the day prior to embarkation.

The ban applies to all new bookings from August 1, 2018. Those booked before that date will be allowed to travel as long as they are at least 12 years old. This latter policy will be in play until the year 2020 when those who do not now qualify will have sailed.

Meanwhile, other river lines, including Uniworld, are offering incentives and special activities to attract families with children during summer school breaks and holiday periods.

Viking River Cruises Now Adults Only

The Viking Freya. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

 

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Mother Russia River Cruising

By Ted Scull.

In the aftermath of two cruise-ship visits to St. Petersburg, my wife and I longed to plunge deeper into Mother Russia. While I had visited and stayed in several Black Sea ports, I had not traveled inland since the Soviet era, and my wife had never been beyond fringes of St. Petersburg.

As we had so enjoyed an earlier cruise on the Danube from Budapest to the Black Sea with Viking River Cruises, we decided to book its 13-day “Waterways of the Czars” from St. Petersburg to Moscow — via a highly complex waterway made up of several rivers and canals, numerous locks, three lakes and a reservoir. The riverboat would serve as our hotel for three nights in both cities and in between convey us through the countryside making stops along the way.

St. Petersburg to Moscow via rivers, canals, lakes and a reservoir. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

St. Petersburg to Moscow via rivers, canals, lakes and a reservoir. * Photo: Viking River Cruises

We arrived in St. Petersburg by Russian train from Helsinki, a most comfortable seven-hour journey passing through deep forests and farmland, and at a fraction of the cost of flying.

As we exited St. Petersburg’s Finland Station in a reversed car with drive, the locomotive that had brought V. I. Lenin from Helsinki to Russia to stage the 1917 revolution was on display at the end of the platforms. The drive down the Neva River to the ship took about 30 minutes.

Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg's grand boulevard. * Photo: Ted Scull

Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s grand boulevard. * Photo: Ted Scull

Embarking at St. Petersburg

Viking River Cruises' riverboat tied up on the Neva just outside St. Petersburg. * Photo: Ted Scull

Viking River Cruises’ riverboat tied up on the Neva just outside St. Petersburg. * Photo: Ted Scull

While Viking Surkov is the line’s marketing name for our handsome conveyance, the Cyrillic letters on the bow and stern read Alexei Surkov, named for a Russian poet who lived between 1899 and 1983. A year after his death the riverboat bearing his name was completed in an East German shipyard, one of a large class measuring 423 feet in length. She takes up to 210 passengers and a Russian and Filipino crew of 114 at 15 miles per hour. Since our cruise, the vessel has been renamed.

The cabins, all outside, and most with picture windows that open, are arranged on three of the four passenger decks. Categories A through D, the bulk of the accommodations, measure a generous 161 square feet. Our cabin included a bathroom with stall shower and a 26-inch flat-screen TV

The highest Sun Deck held the Sky Bar, a big-window lounge with both conversational seating and chairs lined up in rows for briefings, the enrichment program and screening films. During the mornings and afternoons while cruising, one of the six traveling guides presented a lecture on the Romanovs, Russian Revolution, Stalin era, Cold War, Russia today, or the Russian language.

Viewing lounge on the highest deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Viewing lounge on the highest deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Aft on Sun Deck has seating around tables under cover, while deck chairs with attached sun canopies are set out in the open.

The cheerful forward-facing Panorama Lounge on Upper Deck is furnished with chairs, square tables and a sit-up bar for six. It serves as an ideal room for watching the passing scene in cool or inclement weather and offers a daily afternoon tea.

A wraparound deck on this same level and a narrower version one deck down have comfy chairs for sightseeing and a path for constitutional walks.

Main Deck has two stairway lounges, the forward one by the reception, and a centerline amidships lounge cum library. Free Internet access is offered, and passengers proved polite about sharing the facilities.

Coffee, tea, and water were always available near the entrance to the dining room, and early breakfast pastries were on offer from 6:30am.

The dining room, with open seating, helped us meet lots of different people, occasionally making dinner dates in advance. On some evenings, we opted for a quiet table for two. Australians and British came close to equaling the number of Americans and Canadians, with a few South Africans and New Zealanders added to the English-speaking mix.

Dining room with a row of window tables. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining room with a row of window tables. * Photo: Ted Scull

Breakfast and lunch were buffets, and dinner was served from a menu. The lunch buffets were the most creative and varied with ever-changing salad choices and themed hot entrees – Italian, French, Mexican, and Indian. Overall, dinners were good and varied, though not necessarily memorable, with the exceptions being the soups, tasty breast of duck and beef stroganoff. Dress was casual at all times, and a few men put on jackets for the captain’s reception. The onboard currency, referred to as units, turned out to be euros.

Mother Russia River Cruising: The Itinerary

The “Waterway of the Czars,” operating from early May to mid-October, begins either in St. Petersburg or Moscow and covers some 870 miles, while the straight-line distance (as the crow flies) is just 400 miles.

In the 18th century, Peter the Great tried to link St. Petersburg, his new “Window on the West,” with Moscow by water, but the technology was simply not there. By the mid-19th century, a continuous waterway opened, which eventually joined the Baltic Sea, St. Petersburg and Moscow — and via the Volga and Don Rivers to the Caspian Sea, Sea of Azov and Black Sea.

In the 20th century, larger vessels demanded deeper and wider canals, so Joseph Stalin, employing huge gangs of slave labor, completely transformed the water route to what we see today, though some sections were not finished until the 1960s. The monumental architecture at the canal locks unmistakably reflects the Stalin era.

Three Days at St. Petersburg

On our cruise, the first three days were spent docked along the Neva River, a 30- to 45-minute drive from the center of St. Petersburg. When the riverboat is full, as was the case on our August cruise, passengers separate into six buses; and on the first morning, the bus you enter and the guide assigned to that bus are yours for the entire tour program. Most everyone was satisfied with their guides, as we were with Tatiana, a highly informative woman with an engaging personality. During the academic year, she is a teacher of English and French at university level.

Tatiana served as our wonderful guide for the week on the rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

Tatiana served as our wonderful guide for the week on the rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

On today’s tours, most cruise lines use headphones so the guide is speaking in a normal voice directly into your ear and not shouting above the din of others. Also, we arrived at most sites at the start of the day, and while that meant an early rise, we faced much less crowding — such as at the wondrous (and popular) Hermitage Museum where, as a bonus, we had free time to wander amongst one of the world’s finest art collections. One evening we attended a delightful, if familiar, performance of Swan Lake.

Tatiana also carefully explained how to use the subway and bus in St. Petersburg and Moscow. On some days when the included tours did not operate, passengers had the choice of paying for optional tours or going on their own. We chose the latter, as I can read Cyrillic letters and we are experienced using public transit abroad. However, few others ventured out on their own.

We used the public bus connection to the metro for the half hour ride to the city center at Nevsky Prospekt (the main boulevard), and from there we toured on foot using our Lonely Plant guidebook.

St. Petersburg, a planned city with its center dating from the early 18th to the early 20th century, was a delight to explore. It is laced with fine avenues and tree-lined canals and dotted with charming neighborhoods and well-tended parks. We especially enjoyed the richly decorated interior of Kazan (Russian Orthodox) Cathedral and the main bookstore beautifully housed in the ornate former Singer (Sewing Machine) Co. headquarters.

Singer Building, now a fabulous bookstore on Nevsky Prospekt. * Photo: Ted Scull

Singer Building, now a fabulous bookstore on Nevsky Prospekt. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mother Russia River Cruising: Getting Under Way

On the third day, we began the cruise in earnest by sailing up the Neva into Lake Ladoga, the largest in Europe, for a smooth crossing of the southern end. We exited into the Svir River leading to Lake Onega, Europe’s second largest freshwater body.

The first stop at Mandrogy, a replica village built on the site of one destroyed during WWII, offered craft demonstrations and souvenir shops. The less said the better about this touristy stop, especially when compared to the next call, Kizhi Island village. This UNESCO World Heritage site presented a wonderful open air museum of indigenous wooden architecture exhibiting small and large churches — some with octagonal plans, one with an elaborate bell tower, and one with 22 onion domes – plus and varying styles of private homes from the prosperous to peasant.

Too many onion doms to count at Kizki Island Village. * Photo: Ted Scull

Too many onion domes to count at Kizki Island Village. * Photo: Ted Scull

The boat then cruised south through wind-whipped waters to join connecting rivers forming the Volga-Baltic Canal that led across circular White Lake and eventually into Rybinsk Reservoir. We passed through a series of impressive Soviet-era locks that could handle two large riverboats at once, each raising the vessel 45 to 50 feet. En route we also encountered quite a lot of freight traffic hauled by small tankers, bulk carriers (coal, grain, gravel, lumber) and container ships.

A Russian riverboat passes en route to the next lock. * Photo: Ted Scull

A Russian riverboat passes en route to the next lock. * Photo: Ted Scull

From the river landing at Goritsky, it was a short ride to the Monastery of St. Cyril, founded in 1397 and eventually becoming Russia’s second most important ecclesiastical, cultural and political center. At its height, the 30-acre monastery and its 11 churches owned 400 villages and 22,000 serfs. Following emancipation in 1861, the place fell into poverty, the complex closed down; but 40 years ago it became a museum with an outstanding collection of religious icons.

Monastery. * Photo: Ted Scull

Monastery of St. Cyril. * Photo: Ted Scull

Entering the Volga River

Back on the river, the evening could not have been prettier, with colorfully painted wooden houses clustered in small villages lining the wooded riverbanks. In the morning, we entered the legendary 2,300-mile-long Volga River, the mighty Mississippi of Russia that flows south into the Caspian Sea forming one route followed by early trading merchants between northern Russia and Asian kingdoms.

Commerce moves along the Volga. * Photo: Ted Scull

Commerce moves along the Volga. * Photo: Ted Scull

The day’s stop was Yaroslav, a mid-sized city older than Moscow that celebrated its millennium in 2010. We explored the street markets, visited a 17th church with icons and frescos covering every inch from floor to ceiling, and promenaded through a pretty wooded park high above the river. When night fell, lightning illuminated the sky.

Uglich, the last call before Moscow, once boasted 100 churches and now is a sleepy town with a delicate panorama of pretty red, blue and gold domes lining the riverfront. Independently, we walked past rows of wooden houses to the edge of town, some attractively maintained with decorative wood trim and others in poor states of repair, reflective of the uneven wealth in the new Russia.

One of the once hundred churches in Uglich. * Photo: Ted Scull

One of the once one hundred churches in Uglich. * Photo: Ted Scull

Arriving in Moscow

The approach to Moscow was along the Moscow Canal, a prestige project that Stalin oversaw. Construction cost more than a 100,000 lives, and following its rapid completion in 1937, the supervisors were also killed so not to reveal the appalling working and living conditions.

Our ship docked among numerous other riverboats in the shadow of a huge Stalin-era maritime station on the outskirts of the city, its sprouting skyline visible about 15 miles away.

Red Square, Moscow. * Photo: Ted Scull

Red Square, Moscow. * Photo: Ted Scull

With my last visit during the Soviet era, I was not prepared for how vibrant Moscow has become. Yes, vast Red Square, St Basil’s colorful onion domes, and the Kremlin walls, churches, and museums were much the same spectacles, but now everything in the heart of the city had experienced a face lift. The streets were always clean but today, the parks and flower beds were so well tended. And the shops had lots to sell – with GUM, the former department store, providing the most poignant proof. In the Soviet era, little was on display here; but now the space was packed with trendy designer shops – though with the present economy, there were many more lookers than buyers.

Moscow’s traffic, once almost non-existent, was maniacal all day long, and we were never sure how long it would take to get from one place to the next.

Moscow on Our Own

On our free day, my wife and I used the metro, accessed just inland from the Northern River Station, and marveled at its convenience. Trains arrived every one to two minutes, and the stations styles ranged from chandeliered palaces to Art Moderne to heavy Soviet style with heroic bas reliefs. Sometimes it was fun just to get off, have a look around and get on the next train.

We toured some of the better inner city neighborhoods with lovely small parks, narrow lanes, and attractive architecture, and had lunch in a small café that could have been in Paris. I revisited the National Hotel where I roomed all those decades ago, and apart from the layout, its dowdy Intourist atmosphere had been completely transformed in a boutique beauty, with prices to match. Three days was not enough for Moscow, and we envied those who were staying on.

As Russia is a difficult country to travel through independently, a river cruise solves many of the hassles and hurdles. Staying aboard a riverboat in St. Petersburg and Moscow eliminates the packing and unpacking rotations, but the remote landings require long drives to and from the city centers. Also, scores of vessels make this same trip, so expect double and triple parking at landings, and at some sites, possible crowding and maybe a bit of a wait.

Our riverboat proved to be a fine, well-run conveyance, and the guides, traveling with us, were uniformly excellent in their knowledge and presentation. Russia is a very complex country and difficult to fathom, so one cannot expect to be an expert on much after a dozen days. However, the country has a very long history and a proud culture to share with those who take the time to be open to it.

Waterways of the Czars now use the Viking Helgi, Viking Ingvar, Viking Truvor, refurbished 2013/2014, and carrying 204 passengers on five decks.

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