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Antarctica Cruising with Abercrombie & Kent

By John Roberts.

This cruise was going to be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. That much was known.

The rest was a mystery to me.

As the date for our Antarctica voyage with Abercrombie & Kent drew closer [Jan 2020], it started to sink in that I was going to finally get to explore this faraway place.

And I was equally excited to share this adventure with my wife, Colleen. We did tons of research on what we should pack, how the sailing conditions would be and what we could expect to see. It seems that every voyage is different and takes on its own personality, and the accounts or pieces of advice that we gleaned from friends and the Internet ahead of the trip pointed to the fact that each expedition is unique.

This proved to be absolutely true.

John & Colleen share a trip of a lifetime.

Antarctica is a magical, scarcely visited place, and we would have the privilege of spending a couple weeks in the rugged locations that had spawned so many tales of adventure.

We would be following in the wake of explorers like Roald Amundsen and Sir James Clark Ross and tracing the footsteps of legends like Sir Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott.

It’s as unspoiled as any place in the world and a destination that continues to inspire today’s ambitious travelers.

So, our excitement occupied a great deal of our emotions. But I also was concerned about packing the right gear and felt a bit of pressure to ensure I had good enough camera equipment to be able to capture memorable images of the animals and landscapes that I was about to encounter.

Then, there is the sailing itself. I have cruised more than 80 times, and I’ve never battled seasickness. I had heard about the Drake Passage, though, from several friends who have made the trip. This stretch of waterway must be crossed from our departure port of Ushuaia, Argentina, in order to reach the White Continent.

The passage is an unpredictable area that connects the southwestern Atlantic Ocean with the southeastern edge of the Pacific Ocean just above the Southern Ocean. This area between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands can get quite turbulent and test the constitution of even the most well-weather old sailor.

RELATED: Ted Talks about the Roughest Seas in the World.

So, we had that to look forward to.

It’s the pursuit of adventure, excitement and a sense of the wild and unknown that attracts cruisers to Antarctica.

We were thrilled to get our chance on an expedition with Abercrombie & Kent on the luxury ship, the Le Lyrial from French cruise line Ponant. Our trip started in Buenos Aires just before New Year’s and lasted three weeks.

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Le Lyrial in Drygalski Fjord

Le Lyrial in Drygalski Fjord. * Photo: John Roberts

Antarctica Cruising: With Abercrombie & Kent

Abercrombie & Kent is a boutique outfitter that has been a leader in highly curated luxury travel experiences for five decades. A&K first made its name with African safari expeditions in the 1960s, and the company now leads small-group journeys all over the world.

The company has partnered with Ponant on expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica. A&K charters the ships and provides the cruise director and expedition guides, and Ponant crewmembers operate the luxury 199-passenger vessel. Passengers are treated to luxurious amenities, attentive staff and all-inclusive food and drinks.

Antarctica Cruising: An Overivew

Our all-inclusive “Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands” adventure comprised four nights pre-cruise in a luxury Buenos Aires hotel in Argentina, 15 nights on board Le Lyrial, and one final hotel night in Ushuaia.

We flew to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and from there boarded a charter flight to Ushuaia, the port city at the southern tip of South America’s Patagonia region.

In Ushuaia, we had a few hours before boarding the 199-passenger Le Lyrial. We met a few A&K guides who checked in our group and hosted a lunch at a lodge on a scenic hilltop overlooking the city. After a quick buffet meal, groups headed out for a short hike in the neighboring forest.

Once we boarded the ship, we spent three days sailing toward Antarctica. Then it was three days amid the islands and on the continent, stopping at Danco Island, Neko Harbour, Cierva Cove, Mikkelsen Harbor, Yankee Harbor and Aitcho Islands.

We cruised two more days to get to South Georgia Island, where we would head ashore for three more days of exploration, visiting Fortuna Bay, Grytviken, Drygalski Fjord, Salisbury Plain and Elsehul. After that, we sailed for four straight days to return to Ushuaia to begin our journey back home. (We were originally scheduled to visit the Falkland Islands, but weather disrupted our plans and our captain adjusted — more to come on that!)

Antarctica cruise map

The 21-day Antarctica expedition from A&K aboard Ponant’s Le Lyrial. John & Colleen did the route counterclockwise.

With so many seas days in the itinerary, we were fortunate to be sailing on a well-accoutered ship filled with posh amenities, delightful staffers and gourmet cuisine.

That’s the overview of this 20-night journey. Let’s have a more-detailed look at what we did and everything we got to see.

Antarctica Cruising: Summer in South America

A&K offers pre-cruise extension options to spend time in Buenos Aires or take a trip to Iguazu Falls, spectacular falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil. We would end up with about 170 passengers cruising on our expedition, and about 30 of them did the Iguazu Falls add-on. We met a couple who raved about it.

We chose four days in Buenos Aires, as did about 100 others. A&K’s host hotel for the trip is the historic Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, which is conveniently located in the heart of the elegant La Recoleta neighborhood.

Park Hyatt Buenos Aires

The nearly century-old historic Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires. * Photo: John Roberts

This put us within strolling distance of many of the city’s top attractions, and we took advantage. The end of December is the heart of summer in the southern hemisphere, and it was fabulous to shed our winter coats and walk around the city in the nearly 80-degree temps.

During our time in Buenos Aires, we had a few days of free time and one day where we joined an organized city tour that was included in our A&K program. Colleen and I went for a couple of runs and long walks around the city and noted plenty of pretty urban parks. We also made sure to hit up a couple restaurants to dig into the delicious cuisine including empanadas, and, of course, the savory steaks.

Buenos Aires before an Antarctica cruise

One of John and Colleen’s Buenos Aires runs.

We also made sure to wander through La Recoleta Cemetery. This is one of the most scenic and visited burial sites in the world. More than just a cemetery, La Recoleta resembles a peaceful park, with thousands of graves and ornate tombs connected by winding walkways, trees and plants. The gravesites honor the dead with beautiful carvings and stained-glass accents.

On our city tour with A&K, a guide brought us to points of interest like Plaza de Mayo, which is a main hub of the city and features the Pink Palace residence of the president, as well as the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Buenos Aires touring

The Pink Palace residence of the president. * Photo: John Roberts

The main Catholic church in Buenos Aires is filled with gorgeous altarpieces, statues and stained-glass windows and is where Pope Francis used to perform mass when he was known as Archbishop Joseph Bergoglio, before he became pope in 2013.

Our pre-cruise time in Buenos Aires included a wonderful New Year’s Eve dinner at our hotel restaurant. The festive event put us in just the right frame of mind, ringing in another year before we embarked on a special cruise that had been on our wish list for quite a while.

Antarctica Cruising: Heading South

After a three-hour charter flight, our large group assembled to board buses and head to a lodge in Ushuaia for lunch, hiking and free time before the ship was ready for us. We finally boarded Le Lyrial in the late afternoon, and you could feel the excitement building for our expedition.

Once on the ship, we knew we had a few days to get settled in before we would reach Antarctica. This would allow us time to get our room organized, unpack clothes and gear, check out the ship amenities, and meet our fellow cruisers as well as the crew and guides.

Antarctica cruise gear

The gear issued at the start of the cruise. * Photo: John Roberts

Antarctica Cruising: The Ship

Le Lyrial is an elegant, modern ship with seven decks. All cabins have ocean views and most offer balconies. In ours, suite #406, we enjoyed our balcony, which I consider a must-have feature when sailing in Antarctica.

Suite with balcony in the Antarctic

A standard balcony suite aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Ponant, François Lefebvre-1

We spotted all kinds of landscapes, glaciers, ice formations, whales, seabirds and other wildlife simply by stepping out into the fresh air a few strides from our bed.

VIDEO: John gives you a tour of his cabin, #406, below:

The ship has a large spa that offers a range of treatments like massages, facials, and nail and hair services. The fitness center is nearby with treadmills and bikes as well as a weight-training machine. The facility also features a hammam steam room.

A large photo shop allows passengers to book portraits or purchase pictures taken by the ship’s staff of professional photographers. They also shoot a slickly edited video that recaps the entire trip, and that is available to buy.

Le Lyrial’s main theater is home to the enrichment talks, and the program offers movie nights throughout the cruise that you can view on the big screen.

Ly Lyrial lecture on an Antarctica cruise

One of the many enrichment talks in the main theater. * Photo: John Roberts

The lounge is the hub of the ship’s activity. It offers couch seating around the perimeter as well as chairs and tables, so you can sit and gaze through the windows and enjoy the views. This is where passengers spend the majority of their time, chatting throughout the day, reading books, keeping busy with knitting, and ordering beverages from the friendly bar staff.

Ly Lyrial Observation lounge

The observation lounge. * Photo: John Roberts

In the morning, we assembled to put on our gear in the lounge and lined up to get into the Zodiacs, which were reached by heading through the lounge and out onto the back deck before going down to the marina.

Live music was performed by a duet in the lounge, which also has a large dance floor. Passengers also flocked here in the afternoons for tea time — a daily event that offered special accompaniments like tapas, macarons, crepes or ice cream. The ship also features two restaurants: the main dining room, Le Celeste, called a gastronomic restaurant, and the more casual La Comete, a buffet-style grill eatery located on Deck 6 and open to the pool deck. You can also get 24-hour room service.

We tended to eat breakfast in the main restaurant on Deck 2 and dinner at the buffet eatery. The cuisine included a mix of French cuisine and international favorites, such as duck confit, seasoned lamb tenderloins and scallops. We also loved the carving station that featured items like fish, a whole pig, turkey and roast beef.

Le Lyrial in Antarctica

The main dining room. * Photo: John Roberts

Antarctica Cruise with Ponant

Iberico ham at tea time. * Photo: John Roberts

The menu also includes everyday favorites like burgers, chicken breast, mashed potatoes, green beans and french fries. The buffet eatery has a salad bar with plenty of selections. Of course, the wine is free flowing, and most passengers downed several glasses during lunches and dinners.

“The ship itself was very comfortable and cozy — easy enough to explore most nooks and crannies, including visiting the bridge,” said David Marcus, a passenger traveling with six family members. “The food was very good, but way too much. We basically had a floating buffet for the entire trip.”

The pool is heated and has a deep end and shallow end. This makes it great for a relaxing soak, and we took advantage on a sunny day at Neko Harbour in Antarctica. We were joined by several new friends, getting acquainted over cocktails and soaking up the sunshine. (Note: Apply sunscreen. Even the sun in Antarctica can burn.)

Hottub soak in Neko Harbour

A refreshing Neko Harbour soak for John! * Photo: Colleen McDaniel

VIDEO: Follow John on a ship tour of Le Lyrial, below.

Antarctica Cruising: The Beginning

As we pulled away from Ushuaia, we saw a couple of Silversea ships returning from their expeditions. I wondered about all that they had seen and what we would be experiencing over the course of our 14 days sailing around in these remote regions.

Guides and passengers gathered on the aft pool deck area and other outside spaces. Feeling the chill in the air and the winds whipping as we sailed, most of us had already started wearing the red parkas that A&K provided for the trip. Throughout the journey, our group roaming onshore would stand out in bright contrast to the green grasses or white snow.

the deck Le Lyrial in Antarctica

Guides in yellow and passengers in red chatting on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

We were outside right away as we started the sailing. The guides encouraged us to check out the sea birds flying nearby and learn how to identify an albatross from a petrel. We also saw dolphins and a few penguins swimming in the waters.

These were the first glimpses of what would become an incredible display of wildlife in the coming weeks.

The ubiquitous albatross in Antarctica

The ubiquitous albatross. * Photo: Claudia Kirchberger from Pixabay

Antarctica Cruising: Sea Days

During the sea days heading down to the White Continent, Abercrombie & Kent’s program kept us engaged.

To get prepared for the trip, we had the obligatory safety and biosecurity briefings. We learned the procedures that we would use during the voyage to ensure that we wouldn’t adversely affect the environments that we visited.

The main protocol had us washing our boots in a tub of antiseptic called Virkon each time we left the ship and upon our return. I was pleased to see how meticulous the process was to make sure we keep these special places pristine. This meant scrubbing off any trace of penguin poop and picking off even the smallest rock or seed from our pants, gloves, backpacks and jackets.

Antarctica excursion boots

The cleaned boots set outside the cabin to await the next adventure. * Photo: John Roberts

The program was also filled with at least a couple of enrichment talks each day in the ship’s main theater. The expert guides gave talks on the history of the region, as well as the wildlife, with specific topics covering mammals or seabirds or penguins.

There were two photo experts onboard as well, a pair who conducted regular talks in the theater. These well-known photographers, Rick Sammon and Richard Harker, gave excellent tips for capturing memorable pictures and also carved out time to sit in the lounge and meet with especially avid shutterbugs who wanted to show their daily captures and get feedback or learn how to use editing programs.

Antarctica cruising

Rick Sammon’s photography talk. * Photo: John Roberts

© Rick Sammon Antarctica ice

Stunning ice formations. * Photo © Rick Sammon

Enrichment talks are scheduled on sea days and days when visiting a port. We had 170 passengers on our voyage, and regulations place a limit of 100 passengers ashore at a time. Therefore, we were divided into two groups, and we alternated the times when we would go ashore each day.

For example, if we went out at 8 a.m. one day, we would be the 9:45 a.m. group on the next. We would have afternoon and morning shore landings or skiff tours, and this left time for attending talks (or napping!) while the other group was ashore and we were waiting our turn.

Antarctica expedition cruise with Ponant

Climbing in and out of zodiacs is business as usual on an Antarctica cruise. * Photo: Ponant

The daunting Drake Passage had to be crossed on the way down, and this period of sailing presented a certain mystique for most of the passengers, many who were on their very first cruise. I had heard plenty about how the rough waters of the Drake Passage are on another level when it comes to cruising.

So, it was with a mix of relief and slight disappointment that we had an especially smooth crossing. In fact, our experienced captain, Patrick Marchesseau, said it was one of the gentlest crossings of the Drake he had experienced.

The calm waters allowed us to get outside to watch the albatross and other seabirds that would swoop alongside the ship and follow the breezes above our wake.

Antarctica on deck

Guides and passengers mingling on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

We soon arrived to the waters just off the Antarctic continent. The excitement onboard was palpable as we noticed small chunks of ice beginning to float past as we got closer and closer to the islands that we would be visiting for our first forays ashore.

Antarctica Cruising: Sightseeing Adventures in Antarctica

Danco Island

We were in the early group for going ashore at our first destination: Danco Island. I popped out of bed and slid open the glass door and went onto the balcony to see the island, which has a wide sloping cobble beach. I could see gentoo penguins swimming the waters carrying out their fishing activities.

After breakfast, we all gradually geared up and made it down the hallways toward the main lounge.

We were a fine regiment of adventurers, with red parkas as our uniforms and waterproof pants swishing with every energetic stride.

We loaded into Zodiacs and set off to the island. As we approached, the sounds and smells grew louder and sharper. The squawks of penguins and the pungent smell of guano would fill our senses for much of the next 10 days as we visited daily with amazing creatures of Antarctica and South Georgia.

At Danco Island, we traversed the gentle slope of a snow-covered field and watched a colony of delightful gentoos wander up and down a “penguin highway” carrying out their tasks. It was our first close encounter with these endearing animals, and we were all transfixed.

penguins in Antarctica

The “Penguin Highway.” * Photo: John Roberts

“You have the opportunity to interact with the wildlife in one of the most pristine areas of the world,” Dr. Patri Silva Rodriguez said. “Here, they are not scared at all of us, and you can have the best time of your life watching them.”

The temps were mild and the sun started to shine as we wandered back down to the beach to see a Weddell seal resting on a perch, blissfully tolerating the gathering crowd as more penguins plunged into the water to start a hunt. Others waddled out of the surf and past the humans.

We were giddy to be able to witness the whole scene.

The morning at Danco Island set us off and running with memorable experiences.

Antarctica cruising zodiac

Leaving Danco and heading back on board. * Photo: John Roberts

Neko Harbour

In the afternoon, it was a hike to the top of a hill above Neko Harbour. We had officially made it onto the continent during this outing, and several travelers celebrated reaching their seventh continent. One group of friends unfurled a Canadian flag and snapped some pics at the summit to mark the accomplishment.

It was Colleen’s seventh continent and my sixth (I’m missing Australia as of this writing).

Neko Harbour on an Antarctica cruise

A hike to the top of a hill above Neko Harbour afforded a great shot of Le Lyrial. * Photo: John Roberts

The afternoon brought higher temps, and along with the challenge of hiking up the hillside and through steep snow, meant that we were generating even more heat. Most of us stripped off our parkas and enjoyed the sunshine while moving up and down the hillside and past large nesting areas of gentoo penguins.

Le Lyrial was picture-perfect in the harbor, and a few of us took advantage of the favorable conditions to settle into the heated pool once we were back onboard. We ordered some drinks and enjoyed a couple hours with new friends amid the most stunning backdrop you can imagine.

While we were just becoming casually familiar with the penguins and seals at this point, we soon would become experts on their behaviors in the coming days.

Neko Peak

From Neko Peak. * Photo: John Roberts

Cierva Cove

We took a skiff tour in Cierva Cove the next morning. Here, our driver Augie navigated around gorgeous blue ice formations that bobbed in the calm waters.

Cierva Cove in Antarctica

Wispy clouds over the twin peaks of Cierva Cove. * Photo: John Roberts

We saw gentoo and chinstrap penguins, as well as a leopard seal swimming and a crabeater seal relaxing on a floating piece of ice.

 crabeater seal in the Antarctic

An adorable crabeater seal at Cierva Cove. * Photo: John Roberts

Mikkelsen Harbour

In the afternoon, it was Mikkelsen Harbour. The beach was filled with bleached whale bones, a marker of the former whaling industry that proliferated in the region. Also spotted: more penguins and seals. Of course.

Mikkelsen Harbour

Mikkelsen Harbour where the whaling industry once thrived. * Photo: John Roberts

South Shetland Islands

Our final day in Antarctica brought us to the South Shetland Islands, where we went ashore at Yankee Harbor in the morning and Aitcho Islands for the afternoon. Conditions had grown a little wet and blustery, but we enjoyed seeing the different landscapes and habitats where the animals lived. It was amazing to see how much the elephant seals and penguins are thriving in these environments.

Yankee Harbor View on an Antarctica cruise

Plenty of penguins in Yankee Harbor. * Photo: John Roberts

gentoo penguins in Antarctica

Gentoo penguins feeding on the Aitcho Islands. * Photo: John Roberts

elephant seals in Antarctica

Elephant seals doing their thing. * Photo: John Roberts

Back on Le Lyrial for lunch between our two outings, the crew treated us to a special “Southernmost Barbecue Lunch,” to fuel up on hearty comfort food and commemorate our special place in the world — marking a latitude below 62 degrees south. Cooks grilled up burgers, chicken, hot dogs and pork out on the pool deck.

After our time in Antarctica, we had three more sea days on the schedule before we would reach the South Georgia Islands, which we were told would be filled with an even more stunning population of penguins, seals and other birds.

It was good that we had some time to rest up for another set of exciting and active days out in nature. We needed to fully process and appreciate what we had just experienced — up-close encounters with fascinating creatures and a stunning landscape that few travelers are fortunate enough to see.

While sailing toward South Georgia, we spent our time on Le Lyrial getting in a daily workout in the small gym. It was always fairly busy in the mornings, with a group of regulars who all like to keep fit and active, too.

Colleen and I also scheduled a massage and enjoyed a couple post-workout sessions in the hammam. We found this steam room to be quite rejuvenating and an unexpected treat for an expedition ship.

Antarctica Cruising: South Georgia Islands

South Georgia is a British Overseas Territory, and we enjoyed three packed days taking in all the sights, sounds and history available during our stops at Fortuna Bay, Grytviken, Drygalski Fjord, Salisbury Plain and Elsehul.

Fortuna Bay is home to a large colony of king penguins, and we were all delighted to meet these majestic creatures, which are much larger and with their own set of behaviors compared with the gentoos and chin straps with which we had grown so friendly over the prior week.

Fortuna Bay Antarctica

Gorgeous Fortuna Bay. * Photo: John Roberts

penguins of Fortuna bay

The treasures of Fortuna Bay. * Photo: John Roberts

Salisbury Plain sits in the wildlife-rich area on the north coast known as the Bay of Isles, and this spot is home to one of the largest king penguin colonies in the world. We all eagerly snapped photos, as we witnessed the birds feeding young, nesting and caring for eggs, swimming out and returning back from the sea for fishing forays.

We also saw plenty of penguins in the middle of their crucial molting process to refresh their plumage.

King Penguins in Antarcica

Molting Kings. * Photo: John Roberts

Salisbury Plain

Stunning Salisbury Plain. * Photo: John Roberts

Large colonies of fur seals and other seals also share these precious places with the penguins. In fact, 95 percent of the world’s five million fur seals are on South Georgia, and we saw massive colonies of sub-adults and pups all over the beaches, on tussock grass and inland. The number of tiny fur seal pups on display really dialed up the cuteness factor of these days.

Trio of seal pubs in Antarctica

Adorable seal pups. * Photo: John Roberts

Colleen and I made friends with a number of fellow passengers, who, like us, share a passion for adventure. They included an 11- and 14-year-old brother and sister who were traveling with their parents at what was just the start of a seven-months-long worldwide trip.

Most passengers were around 55 to 75 years old and from the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom. All were extremely well-traveled and represented a cross-section of careers (whether retired or still working) in business, law and medicine — some were highly successful entrepreneurs.

David Marcus and his wife, Bilha, from Maryland, were traveling with five other adult family members and friends. I noticed that their group was among the most engaged — enjoying the daily activities onboard and ashore. Before the trip was halfway over, Marcus had already resolved to return to Antarctica with his granddaughter once she is a bit older.

“The Zodiac tours and onshore excursions allowed us to almost shake hands with the penguins and seals,” he said. “And, surprisingly, the weather was warmer in Antarctica than back at home.”

Antarctica Cruising: Grytviken

A former whaling station, Grytviken is one of the most developed places on the island.

Grytviken in Antarctica

Grytviken is a former whaling station. * Photo: John Roberts

We went ashore for a hike and to visit the small church, immersive museum and little post office/gift shop.

Grytviken also has a small cemetery that includes the grave of Ernest Shackleton, who died of a heart attack at the age of 47 while there in 1922.

Shackleton grave on an Antarctica cruise

The grave of the legendary Shackleton. * Photo: John Roberts

The legendary Antarctica explorer made his name during several expeditions on the continent, most notably in an attempt to cross Antarctica beginning in late 1914 that led to a harrowing adventure after setting sail from South Georgia. His ship the Endurance became trapped in ice and ultimately was wrecked and sank. This led to an incredible tale of survival that lasted almost two years before Shackleton and crew returned to South Georgia.

When Shackleton’s fourth-and-final Antarctica expedition ended with his death off South Georgia, his wife, Emily, said that he should be buried there. And so he was buried on the island at Grytviken at the small cemetery that includes graves of several other residents.

shackleton's tombstone

A close up of Shackleton’s tombstone. * Photo: John Roberts

We went for an afternoon skiff tour within Drygalski Fjord and saw seals, seabirds and calving glaciers that filled the channel with thundering cracks and loud splashes and fizzing sounds as the massive chunks of ripped away from the ice field and plunged into the fjord.

Elsehul was our final stop in South Georgia, and we took a Zodiac tour in an especially enthralling place that represents the full menu of sensory experiences. We saw thousands of albatrosses, seals and penguins filling the skies, beaches and sloping grassy hillsides that surround this secluded cove.

Stunning ice formations. * Photo © Rick Sammon

The cuteness is unreal. * Photo © Rick Sammon

We were on a Zodiac with 10 others, and expedition guide Augie was at the helm again as we got our first look at macaroni penguins and marveled at the beauty of the gray-headed albatrosses. Augie had smuggled a medium-sized box onto the small boat, and its presence had gone largely unnoticed until he picked just the right time to slide it close, flip off the lid and reveal several bottles of Champagne.

 Champagne on an excursion

Nice surprise! * Photo: John Roberts

We were nestled along the shore and savoring the scenery as he popped the corks, poured the bubbly and passed around our glasses for a toast to our incredible time together over the past two-plus weeks.

Antarctica expedition cruise champagne

A toast with Augie. * Photo: John Roberts

passengers on an Antarctica cruise

Passengers Dick and Pat in Elsehul. * Photo: John Roberts

One Last Challenge: The Return Home

Remember when I said the ride south was smooth as could be and that many of us onboard were a little disappointed in not getting to experience at least a taste of what the seas can offer when they get angry on these Antarctic cruises?

Well, we got the full seven-course meal on the voyage back north.

The cruise itinerary had called for a stop at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, but that was scrapped as a massive storm crossed our path as we sailed in the South Atlantic Ocean.

RELATED: Ted’s 10 Best Antarctica & Falkland Islands Moments

Our captain informed us as we departed South Georgia that a storm was heading our way.

This resulted in almost 24 consecutive hours of the Le Lyrial and its crew and passengers being tossed about in waves that reached up to 50 feet and were regularly higher than 30 feet.

story seas in the Falklands

Stormy seas kept John & Colleen confined to their cabin for the last few days of the cruise. * Photo: John Roberts

VIDEO: Watching the sea churn during the stormy ride to the Falkland Islands.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSBTx5ax1gc

Services were shut down, and we remained in our cabins for almost the entire time. Crew served us a boxed meal for our dinner, and we did the best to stay comfortable in conditions that were both thrilling and scary. Colleen and I didn’t get much rest, as it was nearly impossible to sleep while trying to hang onto the bed without tumbling to the floor.

Trips to the bathroom were precarious, and items that weren’t fastened ended up scattered all around the cabin.

But we didn’t get sick, so that was a relief. I know many other passengers had a much rougher ride than we did because of seasickness.

We stayed mostly in our bed the whole time and watched a lot of on-demand movies.

Conditions eased as we cruised into a protected area by the Falkland Islands, so we had some relief for much of one day before the waves kicked up again. We sailed for four consecutive days before reaching Ushuaia and our return to land on a Friday evening.

Everyone was quite eager to get off the ship, as cabin fever had set in, and we saw passengers lining up near the gangway to rush off as soon as it was dropped. People headed out to take a walk and find a spot for dinner off the ship.

Though we were all still abuzz about all we had seen and experienced together, people were definitely in the mood for a change of pace, especially after 16 straight days onboard a ship — with the last four being very rough sea days.

Being back on solid ground and amid civilization was just what we were looking for as we joined new friends at a nice restaurant and shared pizzas, beers and lively conversation. It was the final night of the journey and we would be heading off to the airport and on our separate ways back home the next day.

© Rick Sammon ice photo in Antarctica

Serene landscapes (when the weather is good!). * Photo © Rick Sammon

Antarctica Cruising: The Bottom Line

We have enjoyed several expedition-style cruises over the years, and the guides always have been a special part of the trip, helping to bond the group together to share some of the most intense and fulfilling experiences you can imagine.

This part of the experience came up a bit short for us on this trip. A couple of the A&K guides were fairly friendly, and they all were fine when approached with questions, but they didn’t initiate engagement with the passengers in a way that I am used to seeing.

Instead, they tended to disappear or huddle together among themselves when in the main lounge. This was a little disappointing to me.

You never get tired of witnessing penguins and seals in their daily activities up close and in their natural habitat. However, our six days of exploring in the two different regions on the voyage would have been better with a bit more variety in the excursions.

The ship carried kayaks, but A&K did not include kayak tours in its program (and we weren’t really sure why).

Personally, I also would like more options for hikes. I do realize that we were probably in the minority for having these quibbles, though, as most people I asked said they really enjoyed almost every part of the trip — save for the rough sea days.

The program was a rich one, and the guides and staff took great care of us, displaying a true expertise of the region.

The enrichment talks were fascinating, and the animal interactions were intense and more exciting than you can imagine.

elephant seal

Adorably melancholic Elephant seal. * Photo: John Roberts

Our cruise director, Paul Carter, was especially delightful, making us laugh with jokes, always asking how our days were going and keeping us up to date with info needed to effectively navigate each day and destination.

The bilingual Ponant crew speaks French and English, and represent a mix of nationalities. Most officers and managers are French, with the hotel operations staff coming from places like India and the Philippines. The A&K guides come from all over. We had guides from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, the U.K. New Zealand and the United States.

The trip overall was fantastic and a great way to explore such a thrilling destination in style and comfort. Antarctica and South Georgia are places that you have to see for yourself to get a true appreciation for how vital and vibrant they are.

“I am thankful that I was able to witness this remarkable place that most people will never be able to see in their lifetime,” says Melissa Kaplan, who was traveling with her husband, Mike, from Katy, Texas. They also cruised with A&K to the Arctic in 2018, and Melissa feels that the Arctic and an Antarctic cruise that includes South Georgia, are both equally magnificent.

VIDEO: Enjoy John’s overview of his magical Antarctica A&K adventure.

Fares for John’s 20-night “Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands” adventure (four hotel nights in Buenos Aires, 15 nights aboard Le Lyrial, and one final hotel night in Ushuaia), started at $20,995 per person, including round-trip flights between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, plus all zodiac excursions; all house wines, spirits and drinks; expedition gear (parka etc); tips and port charges; accommodation in a suite; and more (note all cabins have a balcony except for 8 cabins on Deck 3)..

View similar offerings for the 2021-22 season here.  *Note, the “new normal” for cruising, whether small-scale or mass-market, is still to be determined as the travel world adjusts to cruising in the era of COVID-19. 

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RELATED:  Antarctica Aboard a Former Russian Research Vessel.  by Judi Cohen

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Alaska Expedition Cruises with Victory

Alaska Expedition Cruises.

By Anne Kalosh.

This year’s Alaska cruise season is looking more tenuous as time goes by. Due to port closures and no-sail orders, big-ship stalwarts like Princess Cruises and Holland America Line, at this point, plan just Seattle or Vancouver, B.C., round trips, not the one-way itineraries between Vancouver and Whittier or Seward, and no add-on land tours. Cunard canceled its Alaska season outright, and Norwegian Cruise Line is not sending a fourth ship there after all.

Of the small-ship (Quirky-sized) operators, Windstar Cruises scrapped its 2020 itineraries, too, because Star Breeze is still at the Fincantieri shipyard in Palermo, Italy, where work stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Quirky Cruise detailed earlier, Star Breeze is being lengthened and updated. Instead of debuting in Alaska, the “stretched” ship is now expected to re-enter service in the Mediterranean.

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Victory Heads North

All of this is to say there’s a lot of uncertainty about Alaska expedition cruises for 2020; and about all cruises for 2020. For that reason, many avid cruisers are looking at 2021 instead. And that’s also when there will be a new choice in Alaska to make things even more enticing.

Known best for its Great Lakes itineraries, Victory Cruise Lines (operated by American Queen Steamboat Co.) will introduce its first expedition voyages in The Great Land using a brand-new ship, Ocean Victory.

Alaska Expedition Cruises with Victory

The 200-passenger Ocean Victory with its distinctive X-Bow profile. * Rendering:vVictory Cruise Lines

Vancouver-Sitka Itineraries

These new “Discover Beyond” adventures sail northbound, from Vancouver to Sitka (11 nights), and southbound, from Sitka to Vancouver (12 nights).

A world-class city, Vancouver offers bountiful museums, parks, a noted aquarium and great restaurants and nightlife. Sitka is a picturesque city of Russian heritage and the starting point for pre- or post-cruise adventures, such as a visit to Glacier Bay National Park.

Alaska Expedition Cruises with Victory

The cruises sail between Vancouver & Sitka.

Ocean Victory

Equipped with 20 Zodiacs and dozens of kayaks, Ocean Victory will enable in-depth explorations of Alaska’s natural, historic and cultural treasures. Victory is working with California Polytechnic State University to carry marine biologists, scientists and naturalists among its expedition team of 19 to lead excursions and give lectures.

The 200-passenger Ocean Victory, currently under construction in China, is among the Infinity series of expedition vessels ordered by Miami’s SunStone Ships for charter to a variety of operators.

The Infinity vessels sport Ulstein Design’s patented X-Bow for a smoother ride and reduced noise and vibration. Rolls-Royce zero-speed stabilizers reduce rolling, and a dynamic positioning system eliminates the need for anchors in sensitive areas.

Ocean Victory measures 8,500 gross tons and stretches 104.4 meters/342.5 feet. It has 93 suites, 68 with balconies, nine with French balconies and 16 with panoramic windows.

Ocean Victory cabin in Antarctica

Ocean Victory balcony suite. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

Two restaurants and an open-deck dining area provide choice.

Observation and lecture lounges, a piano bar, library, gym, spa, heated outdoor pool, pool bar and Jacuzzi are among the amenities. A dedicated launching platform will facilitate Zodiac and kayak adventures.

The ship will be served by 100 crew for a high 1:2 crew-to-guest ratio.

Alaska Expedition cruises

With its big windows, the Observation Lounge will be ideal for viewing Alaskan nature and wildlife from the ship. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

Library aboard Ocean Victory in Alaska

And views from the library, too. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

gym on Ocean Victory in Alaska

Workout with a view in the gym. * Rendering: Victory Cruise Lines

Fjordland Conservancy

Itinerary highlights include Fjordland Conservancy, one of Canada’s newest marine parks, home to wolves, deer, eagles, bears and humpback whales. At Kynoch Inlet, a dramatic waterfall drops into a majestic fjord.

Conditions permitting, passengers will explore the Inlet’s Culpepper’s Lagoon with Victory’s naturalists.

Metlakatla & Misty Fjords

Ocean Victory will also visit Ketchikan, “Salmon Capital of the World,” with the opportunity to fish right from Creek Street.

Visit Ketchikan on an Alaska Expedition Cruise

Salmon is big in Ketchikan. * Photo: Seanna O’Sullivan Photography

Metlakatla provides immersion into the rich culture of the Tsimshian people, including a private visit to a long house for a performance by one of Alaska’s best dancing groups. At Misty Fjords National Monument, travelers find lush greenery, granite cliffs and cascading waterfalls wrapped in gossamer mist.

Russian History & Tlingit Culture

Wrangell was originally a Russian settlement, however the Tlingit people were in the region long before Russian traders settled there. Besides learning about Tlingit culture, travelers can look for bears at Anan Creek, take jet boat rides on Stikine River, go charter fishing or see ancient petroglyphs.

Another highlight is Baranoff Island’s eastern coast, where naturalist guides will lead explorations by kayaks and Zodiacs to tucked-away bays at the base of sheer mountains and cliffs.

Also known as “Little Norway,” Petersburg was settled by Norwegians who thought the area looked just like home.

Directly across the water is Kupreanof Island, with hiking trails, while a floatplane experience provides a bird’s-eye view of LaConte Glacier and its dramatic ice fields.

Tracy Arm & Endicott Arm

Rivaling Norway’s fjords, Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm contain the magnificent Sawyer and Dawes glaciers. The 12-night itinerary from Sitka spends two days there, with visits to Tracy Arm, Endicott and Ford’s Terror Wilderness. The 11-night itinerary from Vancouver spends one day and visits Tracy or Endicott, depending on the ice conditions.

Alaska Expedition cruise excursions in zodiacs

Zodiac excursions take you close up to glaciers and ice fields. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Whale country

After a morning visit to the Tlingit village of Kake, Ocean Victory will travel through whale country. As the home of the Five Finger Whale Research Center, the Frederick Sound is world famous for viewing humpbacks, orcas and Dall’s porpoise. A hydrophone will be used to hear the underwater sounds.

Whales on Alaska Expedition cruises

Ocean Victory will travel through whale country. * Photo: Victory Cruise Lines

Fares for the 11-night northbound cruises on May 21, June 11, July 2 and 23, Aug. 13 and Sept. 3, 2021, start at $4,199 per person. The 12-night southbound cruises, on May 31, June 21, July 12, Aug. 2 and 23 and Sept. 13, start at $4,999. A one-time “Hidden Coast” itinerary, 11 nights, from Vancouver to Seattle on Sept. 24, is priced from $4,199.

Port fees, taxes and gratuities are extra.

Ocean Discoverer Joins in 2023

Victory Cruise Lines is chartering a second expedition new build, Ocean Discoverer, to join sister ship Ocean Victory in Alaska in 2023.

For more info on Victory’s Alaska expedition cruises, go to Victory Cruise Lines’ website.

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Tucano on an Amazon Nature Tour

Amazon Nature Tours

The owner of Amazon Nature Tours, Mark Baker, is a native of Rhode Island and brings his skills in boatbuilding to his river touring operation. At one time, he also imported lumber from Brazil, but it was an Amazon Basin visit that prompted him to begin offering river tours in 1988 as well as promoting conservation.

Most Amazon river cruises are based in Iquitos, Peru, well up the Amazon and its tributaries. However, this firm’s cruising region is mostly along the Rio Negro, the Amazon’s largest tributary that empties into the main flow near the Brazilian city of Manaus. The region is also sparsely populated (by humans).

butterfly in the Amazon

The lovely Borboleta butterfly. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

Amazon Nature Tours’  single riverboat is the Tucano, built in 1997 and refitted a number of times, led by the owner, to make it increasingly eco-friendly, including using solar energy for some of its needs. The passenger capacity is 18.

Amazon Nature Tours's Tucano

The lovely 18-passenger Tucano. * Photo: Nature Tours

Passenger Decks

3 decks and no elevator.

Passenger Profile

Roughly one third originate in the U.S., and a similar percentage from Europe. Amazon Nature Tours is promoted as an active experience so most passengers are fit to tramp in the rain forest in humid weather and can easily climb in and out of the launches. The eight crew are Brazilians.

a launch on an Amazon river cruise

Excursions are done via Tucano’s launch. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Price

$$

Included Features

All Amazon Nature Tours excursions and water (keeping hydrated is important) are included in the fares. Alcohol is extra.

Itineraries

Year-round 4- and 6-night cruises mostly along the Rio Negro. A couple hundred miles may be covered depending on the exact routing.

Tucano on an Amazon Nature Tour

Serenity in the Amazon aboard the Tucano.

Why Go?

The Amazon Basin is one of the hot topics in the realm of climate change, and the 2019 fire season made worldwide headlines that further illustrates what’s happening when the earth’s inhabitants adds to the mounting crisis. In Brazil it’s widespread deforestation for lumber and to clear land for agriculture – slash and burn.

However, the Rio Negro and the State of Amazonas are not in the recent fire zones, though making such a trip leads to a better understanding what’s there and what’s being destroyed elsewhere in the country. The cruising region is within the Central Amazon Conservation Complex, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, rich in biodiversity.

Amazon Expedition Cruises

A brilliant macaw. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Animals to be seen are caiman, dolphins, howler and spider monkeys, giant river otters, and tiny marmosets while a sampling of birds are harpy eagles, brilliant macaws, pygmy kingfishers, hoatzins. Many will want to see piranhas, and some may even catch one. The rainforest is thick and great for hiding, so large animal sightings are few.

amazon expedition cruises

See (and hear!) gorgeous howler monkeys in the Amazon. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

When to Go?

The dry season is August to November while the rains are roughly mid-December to mid-May. Best for birdlife February to April-May. The hottest months relatively speaking are October and November. The low-water season brings more bird and animal sightings.

Spot a capuchin on an Amazon Nature Tours

A cute capuchin. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Cabins

Nine attractive cabins include two singles, all with shower facilities. Double have queen-size or twin beds. They have lovely prints showing the Amazon Basin’s wildlife.

twin Cabin with Amazon Nature Tours' Tucano

A charming wood-paneled twin cabin aboard Tucano. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Public Rooms

A glass-enclosed saloon combines the dining area and lounge, and on the highest level, a second covered lounge shares the deck with some open space aft of the pilothouse.

Dining

Meals are open sitting, and the food Brazilian cooking using fish from the Amazon and fruits and vegetables from the region.

The Tucano's dining area.

Tucano’s ample salon has large windows and serves as the dining area and lounge. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Activities & Entertainment

Passengers have a choice, as one would expect, about what activities they would like to participate in. The choice is adventure and science-based interests. The first involves walks in the rainforest taking in the surroundings while looking for wildlife and unusual nature settings while the other, using the launches, focuses on studying on specific plants and animals.

The outings happen early in the day before breakfast when the rain forest is waking up, before lunch, afternoon and after dinner, including nocturnal explorations by launch. One may move from one group to the other. In addition, there will be visits to local villages that are rotated so that none get an intrusion of more than a couple times a year. A beach outing may be on tap. Kayaks are also available.

The 18-passenger Tucano.

Passengers can kayak directly from the 18-passenger Tucano. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Special Notes

Visas are no longer required from Americans, Canadians, Australians and Japanese.

Along the Same Lines

Quirky Cruise reviews more than a half dozen other operators, but Amazon Nature Cruises is the only one using the Rio Negro.

Adventure Smith, one of our lines reviewed, also use the Tucano, and there are others.

Contact

Amazon Natures Tours.com, PO Box 128, Jamestown, RI 02835. USA 800-688-1822; international (001) 401-423-3377.

— TWS

 

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Poseidon Expeditions

Poseidon Expeditions was founded in 1999 by Nikolay Saveliev as Poseidon Arctic Voyages. Registered in the UK, the company operated its first voyage in 2001 aboard the nuclear-powered icebreaker YAMAL. Expedition voyages center on the Arctic Region, including multiple annual departures sailing directly to the North Pole, and to Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia.

The firm currently charters two fine ships, the 114-passenger suite ship SEA SPIRIT, and 50 YEARS OF VICTORY, nuclear-powered and the world’s most powerful icebreaker, also with excellent accommodations for 128 passengers. The latter is a working ship at other times of the year, and she can break through ten feet of ice (3 meters). In the printed brochure, members of expedition teams are featured right up front with brief bios and their expertise.

Sea Explorer. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sea Explorer. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

SEA SPIRIT (built 1991 with recent major renovation, 114 passengers) and 50 YEARS OF VICTORY (b. 2007, 128 p).

Passenger Profile

Active people from Europe, Australia, the Far East and the US/Canada are aged 45 and up. English is the primary language onboard.

Passenger Decks

SEA SPIRIT: elevators operate between all 5 decks. 50 YEARS OF VICTORY: elevators link the four cabin and public room decks but not the bridge nor the pool and sauna located aft on the lowest of the six decks.

Price

$$ to $$$ Expensive to Super Pricey (North Pole expeditions)

Included features

One pre-voyage hotel night (most departures), all regular excursions*, foul weather parkas with destination patches, free loan of Wellington boots for Zodiac landings­, and digital voyage log. * Helicopter flights included for North Pole expeditions but not flights to Murmansk to join/leave ship.

Spitsbergen (Svalbard) - Curious polar bear comes up to the bow of the ship. * Photo: Ted Scull

Spitsbergen (Svalbard) – Curious polar bear comes up to the bow of the ship. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries:
  • Arctic: SEA SPIRIT operates a program of 10-to 15-day expeditions in June and August/September that visit Iceland, including the Northern Lights, Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen (Svalbard); Spitsbergen and Franz Josef Land (Russia); Spitsbergen circumnavigations; Iceland and east Greenland. Most expeditions feature photography (free) and kayaking (a fee). En route north for the Arctic season, in May the ship will embark in Plymouth, South of England and visit sites in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, ending at Leith, the port for Edinburgh. A second cruise begins in early June at Leith and subsequently calls Jan Mayen Island, and disembarking in Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen. After a series of Spitzbergen itineraries, the ship heads for Franz Josef Land. Expedition dates are available for the 2020 season.
  • North Pole: 50 YEARS OF VICTORY operates three 13-day expeditions in July and the beginning of August to the North Pole starting with a flight from Helsinki to Murmansk (Russia) then boarding the ship to sail 90 degrees north and onto the North Pole with a return via the uninhabited Franz Josef Land to look for polar bears and sea birds and stop at an abandoned meteorological station. All North Pole trips feature photography lessons and helicopter sightseeing (included), barbecue, and an optional polar plunge. Note: A Russian visa is required for this expedition.
  • Antarctica: SEA SPIRIT spends a full season with departures from late October onto late February undertaking 11-day Antarctica Peninsula cruises and several 20- and 21- expeditions to the Antarctic Islands and Antarctic Peninsula, the Falklands, and South Georgia. One cruise crosses the Antarctic Circle to 66 degrees South, now that’s about as far south as it gets! All cruises begin at Ushuaia, Argentina, except the first and last of the season that use Puerto Madryn, Argentina. Some Antarctica trips feature photography lessons (free), kayaking amongst the ice (a fee), and how about overnight camping on the White Continent (a fee). Expedition dates are available for the 2020-2021 season
Sea Spirit in Antarctica.* Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sea Spirit in Antarctica.* Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Why Go?

Few expeditions go directly to 90 Degrees North, where you can stand at the North Pole and be photographed from the air. The other destinations such as Greenland and South Georgia are little visited, and often arriving by ship is the best or only way.

Drop anchor and go ashore where roads and air access do not exist. If you want to feel that you are truly away from your normal routine, then one of the expedition-style voyages is for you.

When to Go?

The itineraries operate seasonally according to the most advantageous times of the year, so generally the Arctic Region in the summer and Antarctica in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer.

Poseidon Expeditions

50 YEARS OF VICTORY. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Cabins

SEA SPIRIT: All accommodations are designated as suites, all outside, and with dimensions 215, 250, 277, 353 and 437 sq. ft. The largest two categories have balconies. Twin beds convert to king-size. Amenities are TV/VCR, refrigerator, Internet Access. The headboards are partitioned mirrored glass panels.

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: Cabins are located amidships and forward, all outside and originally designed for officers and top staff who would spend months aboard breaking ice so there are desks and plenty of storage space. Windows open. The smallest are 151 sq. ft., while the rest range from 237-355 sq. ft. All have TV/DVD and only the smallest categories do not have a fridge.

Public Rooms

SEA SPIRIT: All public rooms are located aft while suites are amidships and forward. The Presentation Lounge is set up for lectures and video presentations, and above that, the Club Lounge is for socializing, with a bar and an adjacent library lounge with books on exploration and wildlife as well as for general reading. Outside deck space circles the ships so viewing locations span 360 degrees.

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: On one deck, the Victory Bar looks over the bow while, the library and lounge are just aft and the second lounge and bar are all the way aft and used for lectures and presentations. There is plenty of deck space for viewing. For both ships, the bridge, often open to passengers, is a spacious additional focus to learn about navigation and chat with the officers.

Dining

SEA SPIRIT: The main restaurant is on the lowest passenger deck and seats all at one sitting. The food is good, varied and as fresh as it can be when sailing in remote locations. In addition, an outdoor bistro serves lunch most days from a covered buffet section, and tables are arranged on the adjacent deck.

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: There is a single restaurant accommodating all passengers at one sitting. As the crew is both Russian and from other European countries, the meals will partially reflect these nationalities.

Taking sight on a polar bear. * Photo: Ted Scull

Taking sight on a polar bear. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment

SEA SPIRIT: The principal emphasis are the outdoor activities relating to the destinations such as the Zodiac trips in search of wildlife and for going ashore to local communities, beauty spots and onto the ice with destinations such a penguin colonies, and even the North Pole! On board, the presentations and recaps tie in with what happens ashore. The ship is equipped with a gym and hot tub. During the evening hours, a pianist provides light entertainment.

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: Designed for long periods at sea, the ship is equipped with a massage room, gym, two saunas and heated outdoor saltwater pool, and not often found, a basketball and volleyball court. The ship carries a helicopter on an after deck.

Embarking into Zodiacs. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions.

Embarking into Zodiacs. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions.

Special Notes

Read carefully what the line suggests you bring and don’t burden yourself with too much unnecessary luggage. Excursions ashore in these remote parts as well as activities such as kayaking and helicopter sightseeing are subject to weather and wind conditions.

SEA SPIRIT was refitted during a drydocking in spring 2019 with a more effective set of stabilizers to reduce rolling while underway, drifting and when anchored.

Along the Same Lines

Other high-end expedition lines.

Contact

USA & CANADA — Poseidon Expeditions, 245 Waterman St., Suite 502, Providence, RI 02906; 347-801-2610.

UK — Poseidon Expeditions, 13 John Prince’s Street, London W1G 0JR  poseidonexpeditions.com,  +44 020 3369 0020.

Check the website for additional offices in Germany, Cyprus and China.

TWS

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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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St. Hilda Sea Adventures

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

St. Hilda Sea Adventures, a Scottish firm established in 2007 and based in Oban, operates three vessels — a small, former sail training tall ship; a former working vessel for the Royal Navy; and the third and newest acquisition is a former cruising lifeboat. The trio is comfortable, quirky and affordable in the way many small ships are not. The itineraries offer a multitude of choices — length and destinations.

Imagine visiting Scotland’s legendary isles and villages and stepping ashore with no more than 6 to 11 fellow travelers and being served aboard by a crew of two or three who, being locals, know the ropes and the neighborhood.

Urquhart Castle in Loch Ness on the Caledonian Canal cruise. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

Seahorse II, acquired in 2017, is an ex-Norwegian Ferry and now carries 11 passengers.

St. Hilda, built in 1973 as a wooden-hull sail training ship, was converted in 2007 for 6 passengers.

Gemini Explorer was acquired in 2019 and is an ex-cruising lifeboat built in 1974 that can now carry a maximum of 7 passengers.

Passenger Decks

Seahorse II: three decks and no elevator. St. Hilda & Gemini Explorer: two decks and no elevator

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Seahorse II. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Passenger Profile

Mostly from Great Britain, and others from the US and Australia. Crew numbers three for Seahorse II — captain, chef and bosun. There are two crew members for St. Hilda and Gemini Explorer — captain and chef.

Price

$ – $$

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

The St. Hilda. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Included Features

All meals, fruit on demand, coffee, afternoon teas, pre-dinner aperitif, beer and wine with dinner, stocked bar after dinner, services of the crew, guides ashore. BYO also welcomed.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Lunch on the dock next to the St. Hilda in Argyll & Bute. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Itineraries

The cruise season begins in mid-April and extends past the middle of October. Itineraries span from three to 11 nights and exclusively sail the lochs, coastlines and islands of Western Scotland.

  • An 8-night circuit visits close-in isles such as the well-known Skye and others with such names as Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna, plus sailing into five lochs.
  • A 5-nighter packs in Duart Castle, home of the Macleans, the colorful village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, nature woodland walks along Loch Linnhe and Lock Aline, with a visit to an 13th-century castle and its gardens.
  • The granddaddy of all is the 11-night voyage to the Outer Hebrides, and to St. Kilda, a tiny island out in the Atlantic Ocean that was inhabited for 2000 years until evacuated in 1930. The island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a huge bird population comprising of gannets, fulmars, petrel, puffins and skua. It looks forbidding from a distance especially when approaching in such a small ship. Special permission has to be granted to land visitors.

AND, note that the three vessels are also available for full charters.

For charters, if the booking chart shows no bookings for a particular date, then the vessel is available, and the itinerary is up to you.

Adorable Puffins in the Small Isles. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Why Go?

Spectacular western Scottish landscapes, seascapes, lots of birds and land and sea animals. Some isles without regular access by ferries can only be visited by private yacht or small cruise vessel. Sail into lochs and sounds and amongst the popular and remote isles of the Outer and Inner Hebrides and along coastal Argyll. Specialties are malt whiskey distillery tours, wildlife seeking guides, and photography lessons. Revel in the camaraderie of a truly small group — passengers and crew.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

An Orca whale spotted at close range in the Inner Hebrides. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

When to Go?

Scottish weather is famously unpredictable and changes quickly in all months. With a six-month season in a northern climate, the heaviest influx of visitors will be July and August coinciding with the school holidays and the warmest months.

Specific popular destinations may be crowded then, especially picturesque villages, castles and gardens but then all cruise itineraries will also include less accessible places. Perhaps the bottom line is to consider May, June and September, early October. Expect long hours of daylight.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Lovely Plockton in the Lochalsh, Highlands of Scotland. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Cabins

Seahorse II Cabins: two doubles with a double bed or twins and en suite (private facilities); two twin cabins, two singles, and one single or double cabin at 105cm (41 inches) in width. These latter cabins have a washbasin and share two shower rooms with dressing gowns provided.

St. Hilda Cabins: a spacious double with two portholes that open, en-suite (shower, toilet, washbasin); twin berths with opening porthole, en-suite (with toilet, washbasin); twin berths (with washbasin). The twin cabins are both close to the toilet and shower rooms.

Gemini Explorer Cabins: in the forward part of the vessel there is a double en-suite, a twin en-suite and single en-suite. In the aft part of the vessel there is a double cabin that is opposite the bathroom.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

A twin cabin on St. Hilda. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Public Rooms

Seahorse II: Deck saloon for dining and a lounge for socializing, reading, and viewing Hebridean scenery and wildlife. The bridge welcomes passengers: high foredeck for wildlife spotting; boat deck aft for lounging and informally labeled “Play Deck.”

St. Hilda: Combination dining room and lounge on the deck above the cabins. Long foredeck leading up to the bow and small after deck.

Gemini Explorer: The deck saloon is where everyone dines and socialises. There is an upper viewing deck with teak benches for wildlife spotting and relaxing.

St. Hilda’s saloon. * Photo; St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Dining

All meals are either served in the combination dining saloon and lounge or in fine weather out on deck. The food is locally sourced and may be mackerel passengers catch along the way, crabs, lobster and prawns from line’s own creel, and perhaps mussels from a nearby island. Also dig into Scottish beef, lamb and pork tenderloin and locally-grown vegetables. Beer and wine with dinner.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

A buffet on the deck of the St Hilda in Loch Fyne Scotland. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Activities & Entertainment

Wildlife spotting from the boat and on shore during walks and hikes, may include golden and sea eagles, three types of whales — minkes, humpbacks and orcas — as well as dolphins, porpoises, sharks, otters and the buzzing sound of corncrakes. The new Gemini Explorer carries a two-person kayak aboard for guests’ use.

The line also offers special theme cruises from time to time featuring art tutors, photographers and wildlife specialists. The details are on St. Hilda’s website.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Bottlenose Dolphins in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. * Photo: St. Hilda Sea Adventures

Special Notes

The vessels are small and at anchor in the evening; expect some movement when at sea, a bit of getting used to for some.

Along the Same Lines

Several other operators cruise these waters and most are more expensive, and in  some cases substantially so.

Contact

St. Hilda Sea Adventures, Dunbeg, Oban, Argyll, PA37 1PX Scotland; Tel: +44(0) 7745 550988, sthildaseaadventures.co.uk.

St. Hilda Sea Adventures

 

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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Emma Jane at Staffa

Hebrides Cruises

Hebrides Cruises is a small family-operated line that currently operates two vessels taking just 8 to 10 passengers on cruises to Scotland’s Western Isles, lochs and the Caledonian Canal that stretches 60 miles across Scotland.

The emphasis is on Scotland’s varied wildlife, in the sea, air and on land, particularly in the Western Isles; island hopping; visiting small isolated communities; and enjoying the rugged island and mountain scenery, plus Scottish lochs and the Caledonian Canal on certain itineraries.

Both vessels are ideal for chartering to extended families and groups of friends.

Note: This line should not be confused with Hebridean Island Cruises.

Cruise vessels don’t get much smaller than these two, and their rugged construction makes them ideal for cruising Scotland’s beautiful and wildlife-filled Western Isles.

Hebrides Cruises the Shiant Isles

Cruising the Shiant Isles in the Hebrides. * Photo: James Fairbairns for Hebrides Cruises

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

ELIZABETH G was rebuilt in 1995 from a Norwegian rescue vessel and takes 8 passengers; 10 on a charter.

EMMA JANE was purchased in 2016 and began sailing on May 13, 2017 as PROUD SEAHORSE, and then renamed in 2018. She is a mini-cruise vessel and takes 10 passengers.

Both vessels are stabilized.

Hebrides Cruises

The Elizabeth G. * Photo: Ted Scull

Passenger Decks

ELIZABETH G has 3 decks, and EMMA JANE 4 decks, and neither has elevators.

This pair is not suitable for wheelchair passengers. Passengers with mobility issues are helped on and off the ships.

Elizabeth G & the Emma Jane together

The Elizabeth G & the Emma Jane. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Passenger Profile

Outdoorsy types who love nature and the sea. Children under 12 are not accepted unless it is a full ship charter; same for pets. Crew numbers 4 — captain (“skipper”), bosun, chef and wildlife guide.

Price

$$ to $$$

Expensive to pricey. Full charter offers a 10% discount.

Included Features

All meals, morning coffee, afternoon tea, snacks, bottled water and house wine with dinner; guided shore trips by wildlife experts.

drinks on deck in the Hebrides

Drinks are included in the fares. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Itineraries

4-, 6-, 8- and 10-night cruises operate between the end of April through to mid-October covering variously the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Caledonian Canal across Scotland and several lochs.

The shortest, 4 nights, visits Lochs Linnhe and Etive and the Isle of Lismore; 6 nights either the Caledonian Canal between Oban and Inverness or the Isles of Skye, Muck, Eigg, Rum and Canna; while the 8-nighter adds the more remote Shiant Isles.

The longest, 10 nights, includes Mingulay, Barra, South and North Uist, Harris and the most remote and dramatic of the Outer Hebrides: St. Kilda and its raucous bird colonies. The website has a space available chart. Dates that list “0” are available for charters.

Emma Jane at Staffa

Emma Jane at Staffa in the Inner Hebrides. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Why Go?

Scotland is a gorgeous sea, sky, and mountain country with lovely isles and lochs to visit that are home to hugely varied wildlife — birds, animals and sea creatures. The locals are friendly too.

Cliffs of Canna in the Hebrides

The breathtaking Cliffs of Canna. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

common dolphins

Emma Jane with common dolphin from boat tender. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises Wildlife Guide Lynsey Bland

When to Go?

Scotland is a fickle weather sort of country, with sudden changes in very short periods of time, so you take your chances at any time of the April to October cruising season. June tends to sell out first.

Cabins

ELIZABETH G has four small double cabins for 8 passengers (two with double beds and two with stacked twin beds); and up to 10 passengers for a private charter.

Elizabeth G twin cabin

An Elizabeth G twin cabin. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

EMMA JANE has 4 doubles or twin ensuite cabins and one cabin suite (separate bedroom and lounge) for a maximum of 10 passengers. The fittings and finishes show great attention to detail.

Single passengers may ask to share a double cabin on a per person basis, or if the ship is not full, have the cabin to themselves. Otherwise singles pay the full cabin rate.

Emma Jane cabin

An Emma Jane cabin. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Public Rooms

The lounge is adjacent to the dining section, while the wheelhouse and outer decks are additional public spaces with lounge seating.

Lounge, PROUD SEA HORSE, Hebridean Cruises

Lounge EMMA JANE. * Photo:  Hebridean Cruises

Elizabeth G lounge

The lounge of Elizabeth G. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

Dining

Everyone dines at the same time. Sample menus:

Breakfast — Scottish porridge with fruit compote, smoked Scottish salmon or haddock, scrambled eggs, and whole meal toast, and fresh biscuits and muffins. Also dig into Argyll free-range sausages, locally smoked bacon, herb slow roasted tomatoes, and Stornoway black pudding.

Lunch — two courses with soup, salad or sandwiches on freshly baked bread. For example, enjoy a local Scottish salmon and asparagus tart, freshly made Focaccia bread, roasted butternut squash, and a tomato and avocado salad.

Dinner is a set meal by candlelight — locally caught langoustines and scallops or chicken breasts stuffed with haggis or pistachio and mint-crusted rack of Argyll lamb, served with minted new potatoes and seasonal steamed greens. Dessert may be Sicilian lemon tart with mint and Scottish strawberry sorbet, followed by Scottish cheeses with oatcakes and a local chutney, plus  coffee. Vegetarians can enjoy options like aubergine and feta ‘cannelloni’ with a rich basil and tomato ragu, served with seasonal greens.

Hebrides Cruises dinner

Delicious fare, like this crab cake with prawns meal. * Photo: Hebrides Cruises

If aboard, there’s a service of morning coffee, afternoon tea and homemade cakes or biscuits. Special diets catered to with advance notice.

Activities & Entertainment

Organized trips ashore are led by a qualified wildlife guide for spotting at sea and when ashore. Trips might involve two hours to visit local villages and their attractions or longer hikes.

Also, some hikes may be self-guided for those who prefer independent activities.

Eigg on a Hebrides cruise

Walking on Eigg. * Photo: Robin McKelvie

Wildlife often seen comprise whales, sharks, dolphins, many types of sea birds, white-tailed and golden eagles, and otters and red deer. On islands such as Hirta and far out St.Kilda, birding trips may last six hours and include a packed lunch.

If feeling lazy, enjoy the ship and its observation deck and let the others mess about.

Special Notes

Scotland’s weather is highly fickle and temperatures may be cool even in summer. It is best to wear breathable waterproof jacket and trousers, and think layers rather than a heavy coat.

Walking boots are the best footwear, and a walking stick is a good steadying tool in rough and slippery terrain. Insect repellent should be taken for trips ashore or applied before.

Along the Same Lines

The Majestic Line, Magna Carta Steamship Company, Hebridean Island Cruises.

Contact: Hebrides Cruises, Craigard, Connel PA37 1 PT Scotland; +44 (0)1631 711 986; www.hebridescruises.co.uk

TWS

 

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Celebrity Cruises Galapagos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

RELATED: Galapagos Islands Cruise Overview

Celebrity Expeditions

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

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

Price

$$ – $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Included Features

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

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

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

Itineraries

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

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

When to Go?

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

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

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

Cabins

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

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

Dining

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact

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

— HMS

 

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Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Expeditions

AQUA EXPEDITIONS began operating a high-end riverboat on the Peruvian Amazon in 2007. Cruises begin and end at Iquitos, Peru and sail to one source of the Amazon and in the vast the Pacaya Samira Reserve seeing wildlife and visiting riverside communities. In 2014, the firm established a second base in South East Asia with cruises along the Mekong aboard the AQUA MEKONG between Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

In November 2019, the AQUA BLU was added to the fleet offering 7- and 12-day Indonesian island cruises from Komodo National Park to Ambon, Spice Islands and Raja Ampat. The 15-suite ship formerly operated as a British Naval Explorer and has been upgraded to yacht standards. A fourth vessel, AQUA NERA, is set to debut in October 2020 to do Peruvian Amazon cruises, replacing the AQUA AMAZON that was lost in July 2016.

Aqua Expeditions operates one of the top river experiences in the lap of luxury along the Amazon and Southeast Asia’s Mekong  and more recently eastern Indonesia. And seeing is believing: visibility through floor-to-ceiling glass is a huge plus.  

See it all through huge windows. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

See it all through huge windows. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

ARIA AMAZON (built 2011 & 32 passengers); AQUA MEKONG (b. 2014 & 40 p); AQUA BLU (b. 1968, converted 2006, refurbished 2019 & 30 passengers); AQUA NERA (to debut Oct 2020 & 40 p).

Passenger Decks

3 Decks, No elevator. AQUA BLU 5 decks.

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Passenger Profile

Guides cater to English, French and German speakers. Children must be at least seven to travel. Interconnecting cabins for families.

Price

Expensive — $$$

Itineraries

Peruvian Amazon Cruises

ARIA AMAZON (and AQUA NERA as of October 2020) make 3- (partial), 4- (partial) and 7-night (combining the two) cruises year-round from Iquitos along several Upper Amazon river tributaries, including the Ucayali and Maranon rivers to the Pacaya Samira Reserve, a five-million-acre flooded rain forest punctuated by black lagoons that dramatically reflect the surrounding trees. Activities visit riverside villages and food markets, and offer hikes in the rain forest and skiffs for water exploration and fishing for piranhas.

Keen eyes look for freshwater pink dolphins, turtles, lizards, caiman, iguanas, and frogs (some poisonous), snakes, sloths, capuchins, squirrel and howler monkeys, terns, toucans, and macaws.

With the cruises of short duration, many travelers choose to add on some of the following: Machu Picchu, Cusco, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Lima and/or Nazca Lines.

Excursions down a scenic Amazon tributary. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Excursions down a scenic Amazon tributary. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, soft drinks, premium wines and craft beers with meals; all excursions and entrance fees; use of bikes and kayaks; and transfers between the boat and airport on company recommended flights. Complimentary laundry service. Tipping is extra and recommended rates are $81-120 for 3 nights and $108-160 for 4 nights including crew and guides.

Why Go?

The outstanding varieties of mammals, birds, and aquatic species seen along the rivers and in the deep rain forests simply are staggering. The riverboats are more than comfortable and allow down time after a day exploring in small craft and on foot.

When to Go?

The cruises operate year-round and the weather is slightly wetter with higher water levels December to May and less rain and lower water levels June to November. The temperature variation is minimal, and the water levels affect how far the skiffs can penetrate the rain forest via narrow tributaries.

Cabins

ARIA AMAZON has 16 cabins with polished wooden floors that measure a generous 250 square feet with beds positioned to face the expansive floor-to-ceiling glass windows flanked by two chairs and a table. With windows like these, you’ll practically feel like you’re IN the river with the wild critters!

AQUA NERA has 20 suites on two decks that measure an even more generous 322 sq. ft., again with large windows.

Aria Amazon's gorgeous rooms. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Aria Amazon’s gorgeous rooms. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Public Rooms

ARIA AMAZON and AQUA NERA have an indoor lounge with large view windows, bar and library selection and a top deck lounge both open and under a canvas awning, especially enjoyable when the boat is underway. AQUA NERA has a screening room and pool table.

Dining

The floor-to-ceiling windows bring in lots of light during meals while passengers dine at tables for two, four or six. AQUA NERA offers indoor or outdoor dining. The stylish settings serve 70% locally sourced fish from the Amazon, fresh fruits and vegetables and premium South American and European wines.

Much effort is put into meal preparation that achieves the best in Peruvian-style cuisine for signature dishes such as Peruvian ceviche, combining a river fish, juicy onions and corn kernels spiced with cilantro and coriander, or plantain and yucca gnocchi, and palm soufflé. Cooking demonstrations reveal the techniques and ingredients.

Dining on Aqua Amazon. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining on the Amazon. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities & Entertainment

The ARIA AMAZON is equipped with a massage room, stationary bicycle and treadmill, and a Jacuzzi on the outdoor lounge deck. AQUA NERA has two spa treatment rooms, gym and plunge pool. Talks by the English-speaking guides take place in the lounge, and passengers go ashore with multiple guides in very small groups (6-8).

The vessel offers two or three excursions daily and aluminium skiffs take no more than eight passengers and are manned by a guide trained to spot animals and birds that might otherwise go unnoticed in murky water and rain forest settings. Kayaks are available.

AQUA NERA has four 10-person aluminum launch boats. Staffing and passenger ratio are one-to-one on both vessels.

Mekong River Cruises

AQUA MEKONG offers 7-night cruises between a docking point near Siem Reap, Cambodia, and My Tho, a Vietnamese port in the delta, with access by bus to and from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the temples of Angkor Wat (in Siem Reap, Cambodia).

The 3- and4-night cruises may start or finish at either end and embark or disembark part way along at Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Because the river cruises are short, consider adding any of these destinations: Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue and Angkor Wat.

Aqua Mekong * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Aqua Mekong * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, and soft drinks, wines, and craft beers with meals, all excursions and entrance fees, use of bikes and kayaks, and group transfers.

Why Go?

Both Cambodia and Vietnam are culturally rich in architecture and the arts and crafts, and traveling the Mekong allows close up views of the passing scene with considerable trade plying the river, manufacturing, towns and cities lining the shores, and a chance to tie up and explore markets, watch Buddhist ceremonies, and enjoy a home visit.

Aqua Expeditions

Views from the sundeck. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

When to Go?

Cruises operate year-round with some itinerary adjustments depending on high or low water levels. Rainy season normally extends from November to May. Daytime temperature are cooler. During high water periods, the boat can sail to and from Tonle Sap Lake with easy access to Angkor Wat and into the emerald flooded forest in Vietnam.

Cabins

The accommodations measure a very spacious 320 square feet, and eight have balconies and all floor-to-ceiling windows. Four sets interconnect two suites, for families or for one giant suite for two, and all bathrooms feature twin sinks.

Public Rooms

Indoor spaces are a lounge with bar, a small indoor cinema, and boutique. Outdoors on the Sun Deck are two lounge areas with canopies and bar, sun loungers at one end and sit-up bar and table and chair seating at the other. Staff ratio on AQUA MEKONG is one-to-one.

Aqua Expeditions Mekong lounge

Aqua Mekong’s Indoor Lounge * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining

The setting is sophisticated with large windows giving clear views of the Mekong, where passengers may sit as a couple or at larger tables. Menus feature Vietnamese and Khmer traditions that may include Vietnamese catfish with shallots, chilies and basil; grilled prawns with peanut relish; vegetable dumplings; and chocolate fondant (a tip to French influence in Indochina).

Aqua Expeditions dining room on Mekong

The windowed dining room. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities & Entertainment

From the plunge pool on the Sun Deck, you can look forward; the spa has two treatment rooms, and there is a gym, foosball in the games room cum library, screenings for up to 10 people in the indoor cinema or attended by a larger group out on the covered deck. Four tenders take passengers on river outings and ashore when the boat cannot dock.

Visits are made to plantations, homes, artisan compounds, markets, Buddhist temples, markets with the boat’s chef, and the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh for the Royal Palace, Silver Temple, National Museum and Museum of Genocide. Bicycles are available for guided trips into the countryside, stopping to see farming operations, markets and village life. Motorized tuks tuks venture further.

Indonesia Cruises

AQUA BLU entered service in November 2019 to cruise in Eastern Indonesia. The ship, converted from British Naval Exploration ship now operates as a high-end cruising yacht for 30 passengers in 15 suites.

Aqua Expeditions

AQUA BLU cruises the eastern Indonesian islands. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Included Features

All meals, and soft drinks, wines, and craft beers with meals, all excursions and entrance fees, use of kayaks, and group transfers.

Why Go?

The cruises in Eastern Indonesia are offered in three different 7-night itineraries, plus connecting voyages:

1) Bali to Komodo National Park, visiting a series of closely packed islands with disembarkation at western tip of Flores Island and in the opposite direction;

2) 7 nights to Ambon and the Spice Islands; and

3) 7 nights to Raja Ampat, a recently popular area of extreme tropical island beauty, rain forests and tropical birds, beaches and coral reefs with abundant marine life at and off the western tip of West Papua.

Komodo National Park

The Moyo Island Waterfall in the Komodo National Park. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

When to Go?

The program is year-round when combining all three repeating itineraries.

Cabins

15 suites are situated on four decks and fall into three categories with two pairs of suites interconnecting, for families or good friends. The accommodations have round, rectangular, and oval windows and portholes.

Aqua Expeditions cabin

Windowed suite on Bridge Deck 1. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Public Rooms

Lounge spaces offer choices between out in the open or beneath a covered deck seating, or totally within A/C room; small library collection and a TV room.

Aqua Expeditions lounge

The ship’s hub, the main lounge. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Dining

Meals are served in one of two locations, depending on the temperature and weather conditions: open air, including BBQ, or air-conditioned and at both venues open seating. As the ship operates in a tropical island climate, lots of local fish, fruits and vegetables are close at hand in  addition what is supplied to the ship as embarkation ports.

Aqua Expeditions dining

Lovely outdoor dining. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Activities and Entertainment

Enjoy lectures, videos, snorkeling, and swimming. There’s an exercise room, spa and a pair of outdoor hot tubs.

Aqua Expeditions hot tubs

A pair of dreamy outdoor hot tubs. * Photo: Aqua Expeditions

Special Note

In July 2016, AQUA AMAZON was lost in an explosion, with deaths and injuries to the crew, while no passengers were aboard.

Along the Same Lines

There is a wide choice of operators in both of Aqua Expeditions’ cruising regions, including Star Clippers, Pandaw, SeaTrek Sailing Adventures, Scenic & AmaWaterways.

Contacts

Go to www.aquaexpeditions.com; USA & Canada: 866-603-3687; UK: +0 808 189 0361; Australia: +1 800 243 152; New Zealand: +0 800 466 098.

 

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Captain Cook Cruises

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

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

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

Captain Cook Cruises

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

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

REEF ENDEAVOUR (built 1996 & 130 passengers).

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

The ship has five decks and an elevator.

Price

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

Itineraries

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

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

Yasawa Island. * Map: Captain Cook Cruises Fiji

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

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

Included features

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

Why Go?

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Cabins

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

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

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

Public Rooms

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

Dining

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

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

— TWS

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GreenTracks

GreenTracks, in business since 1992, operates wildlife, archeological and cultural cruise and land tours to South America with its geographical emphasis on the Amazon River and its tributaries; Peru and Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, national parks and reserves, and stays in Amazon rain forest lodges; Brazil and the Pantanal for wildlife; and the Galapagos Islands.

Cruises use a wide range of chartered Amazon riverboats, and in the Galapagos, a pair of 16-passenger yachts. GreenTracks specializes in matching cruises with land travel, exploration, and lodge stays. Apart from set departure dates for cruises, cruise-tours, and land-only tours, the firm will customize travel arrangements for groups, and in the case of cruises, will handle from eight to 38 travelers within the fleet it charters.

GreenTracks is the big fish in the Amazon, offering the widest choice of Upper Amazon riverboats from the affordable to the luxurious.

Bora Village, Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

Bora Village, Upper Amazon. * Photo: Ted Scull

THE AMAZON

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

Click HERE for GreenTrack’s table listing the eight vessels chartered for their Amazon Cruises with passenger capacities, amenities, length of cruises, price comparisons, and single supplements. All vessels share outside cabins with air-conditioning and private facilities. A few have cabins for a third person such as a child or three friends sharing, while single cabins are scarce. Balcony cabins are few but on the Amazon, you will want to sit out on deck with 360-degree views.  

Note: A couple of the vessels have historic backgrounds, including as far back as the rubber boom at the start of the 20th century.

Passenger Decks

All vessels have three decks, except the CATTLEYA, with just two and cabin space for only eight passengers.

31-passenger ESTRELLA cruises the Upper Amazon. * Photo: GreenTracks

Passenger Profile

With a wide range of accommodations and price levels, the company attracts travelers and cruise passengers of all ages down to as young as about seven years. The majority of passengers will be Americans.

Price

$ to $$$. The chart shows a range of per diem rates.

Itineraries

The Amazon, when referring to these river cruises, is the overall designation that comprises the various Peruvian tributaries flowing into the main stream that becomes the Amazon that ultimately empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Cruises, based in Iquitos, Peru, are mostly 4, 5, and 8 days, and the emphasis on wildlife and cultural pursuits and itineraries varies with different boats.

Destinations are scenic waterways, some penetrating deep into the rain forest and lagoons, national parks and reserves, and riverside villages. Apart from the cruise, nearly everyone tacks on at least a few land days staying at a rain forest lodge or visiting destinations such as Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and Peru or Brazil’s national parks.

Amazon riverboat DELFIN II - Green Tracks

Amazon riverboat DELFIN II – Green Tracks

Included Features

Transfers, meals, excursions, guides, and bottled water. Some river boats include soft drinks, beer and wine with meals. As to tipping, some recommend about $80 per person for a week and include the guide, and boat staff, and a few others, a whopping $20-30 a day for the crew and $7-10 per diem for the guides. Those figures must represent their wages.

Why Go?

With the aid of trained GreenTracks guides, you will have plenty of eagle eyes picking out the vast array of birds, mammals, aquatic species seen along the rivers and deep in the rain forests. Village stops are also on the itineraries, many quite isolated and only connected by water.

The riverboats are a comfortable way to take you to numerous locations to then explore more locally in small craft and on foot, followed by relaxing down time at the end of the day. To see more of the country, combine the river cruise with a rain forest lodge stay, a trip up to Machu Picchu or another land destination.

Fish market along the Upper Amazon, Iquitos, Peru

Fish market along the Upper Amazon, Iquitos, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

The cruises operate year-round, and the weather is slightly wetter with higher water levels December to May and less rain and lower water levels June to November. The temperature variation is minimal, and the water levels affect how deep the exploratory boats can travel up shallow tributaries.

Cabins

Sleeping accommodations vary in size and included amenities, so check the chart and the individual profiles. All cabins are outside with windows and all have private showers and toilets.

Public Rooms

Every riverboat has open deck space for viewing, including portions under cover, a lounge with bar, and a single dining room.

Dining

Passengers eat at the same time for all meals, and feeding times are matched with the day’s excursions. Given the variety of vessels chartered and what you pay, the meals will vary from good substantial offerings that you look forward to on up to gourmet levels you’ll go ga-ga over aboard the more expensive riverboats.

Activities & Entertainment

The activities take place ashore on hikes and in small boats, two to three outings a day. Aboard, a crew member may play a musical instrument, and the tour leader is there to answer questions and lay out the daily programs but generally GreenTracks does not offer formal lectures — unless the group asks for them. The time aboard the boat is for relaxation, enjoying the river when underway, reading up, socializing, sleeping and eating.

Gone Fishing, Upper Amazon, Peru. Photo: Ted Scull

Gone Fishing, Upper Amazon, Peru. Photo: Ted Scull

THE GALAPAGOS

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

Sea Star Journey (built 2008; 16 passengers);  Seaman Journey (built 2003, refurbished 2011; 16 passengers).

Itineraries

Galapagos cruises can be as short as 4 days/3 nights and as long as to 15 days/14 nights. Additional days increase the number of islands visited.

Included Features

Excursions, guides, use of equipment. Tipping levels are high (as they tend to be with other lines too in the Galapagos): $8-$10 per person a day for the naturalist and $25-$30 pp a day for the crew.

Why Go?

Wildlife in the air, on land and at sea is amazing for its variety and its casual response to human visitors. You can literally walk (carefully) amongst lounging marine iguanas. Different islands have their own particular species and/or share similar wildlife with other islands. A partial list includes pelicans, frigate birds, blue- and red-footed boobies, penguins, albatross, cormorants, fur seals, sea lions, marine iguanas, and the giant tortoise.

Marine Iguanas, Galapagos, Ecuador. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

Marine Iguanas, Galapagos, Ecuador. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

When to Go

Cruises operate year-round. The climate is subtropical and the water temperatures are affected by the islands’ location with regard to both the cold Humboldt and the warmer El Nino currents. January to June is warm season with rain and good for ocean activities; July to December is cooler and dry.

Peak periods for visitors are the holidays from before Christmas through New Year’s and summer school’s out months. GreenTracks’ website has a detailed month by month rundown of what to expect from the weather and the wildlife.

Cabins

Both vessels carry just 16 passengers in outside cabins, mostly doubles, one triple on SEAMAN JOURNEY (a twin-hulled catamaran) and also one suite on SEA STAR JOURNEY (a mono-hull yacht).

Galapagos catamaran SEAMAN JOURNEY takes just 16 passengers. * Photo: GreenTracks

Sea Star Journey

Matrimonial Suite aboard Sea Star Journey. * Photo: Green Tracks

Public Rooms

Vessels have a lounge and bar, dining inside and out on deck, covered deck area for relaxing and viewing.

Dining

Meals are of a high standard and carefully presented for the 16 passengers, and everyone dines at the same time.

Activities & Entertainment

By day it’s snorkeling, scuba diving, sea kayaking, hiking, and sandy beaches for swimming; come evening, enjoy mingling with shipmates and recaps of the day’s events and what’s ahead. SEA STAR JOURNEY has a Sun Deck Jacuzzi.

Along the Same Lines

For Amazon River cruises, GreenTracks used such a large and varied fleet that most other well-run firms will share similarities. In the Galapagos, look at the operators of low-capacity yachts.

Contact

GreenTracks, 416 County Road 501, PMB 131, Bayfield, CO 81122; 970-884-6107.

 

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

The Icebreakers

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

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

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

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

Expedition Ships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ocean Diamond. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Ocean Diamond. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quark Expeditions

Preview of ULTRAMARINE in Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

 

Price

$$ to $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

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

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

Curious penguins in Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Curious penguins in Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

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

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

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

When to Go?

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

TWS