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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

Cruising for over a quarter century, this chic French line is a Francophile’s dream. Ponant’s crew is discreet, the décor is subtle and the food is tantalizing. French desserts, French cheeses and French wines accompany passengers on cruises around the world, from French Polynesia and the Caribbean to the North and South Poles, and lots in between.

Passengers are a well-traveled, well-dressed international lot and the handsome captains stroll around the ship in short sleeves chatting to guests as if they are one of the passengers. Ponant is a bit of Europe no matter where the ships are sailing.

In late 2014, the company’s name was simplified from the French Compagnie du Ponant, to just Ponant, a simpler name for the company’s growing international audience, though Ponant still remains the only French-flagged, French-flavored cruise line out there. Ponant is in the midst of building frenzy, with six 184-passenger expedition vessels in the pipeline between now and 2021. As they are delivered, itineraries will be expanded to offer more frequent sailings and brand-new destinations.

A hybrid electric icebreaker is to appear in 2021 and be able to make it to Geographic 90 Degrees North — The North Pole.

Note: Some sailings are directly operated by Ponant and others are under charter to well-known firms for individual sales as well as for special interest groups.

N.B. In August 2019, Ponant announced that the French-owned line has bought Paul Gauguin Cruises, operating the ship PAUL GAUGUIN in French Polynesia and that the ship will continue to operate under its current name.

Ponant's fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ponant’s fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

LE BOREAL (built 2010, 132 passengers), L’AUSTRAL (b. 2011, 132 p), LE SOLEAL (b. 2013, 132 p), LE LYRIAL (b. 2014, 122 p), LE PONANT (b. 1991, 64 p), LE LAPEROUSE (b. 2018, 184 p), LE CHAMPLAIN (b. 2018, 184 p),  LE  BOUGAINVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p) and LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p), LE BELLOT (due April 2020, 184p), LE JACQUES CARTIER, the sixth Explorer-class ship (due July 2020, 184p), and LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT (due April 2021, 270 p), specifically designed for polar explorations.

Ponant's mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant’s mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Passenger Profile

Mostly Europeans, heavy on French, Swiss and Germans, with a sprinkling of Francophiles from everywhere else — North America, Brazil, you name it. Children are welcome, but are expected to be well behaved; there is a children’s menu, Wii gaming console, and when there are a number of kids on board, a few activities are organized by a staff member.

On a handful of special family-friendly sailings per year (often a Med itinerary in the summer), a Kids Club is offered with kids’ counselors supervising games and activities for ages 4+. Several firms charter Ponant ships, so they will determine the languages, and a number of them are in the English-speaking markets.

Passenger Decks

6 with elevators to all decks (4 on LE PONANT, the motor sailing yatch, and no elevator)


$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Open bar throughout ship, stocked cabin mini-bar, and all soft drinks. New for 2019 is free WiFi in all cabin categories on all ships.

PONANT                                                                                 LE BOUGAINVILLE delivered in 2019 as the third ship in the explorer class. * Photo: Ponant


The ships, with such an expanding fleet, roam all over the world on one- to two-week cruises (some longer): Mediterranean and Northern Europe, Alaska and Canada, Caribbean, Central America, both coasts of South America, West Africa and Southern Africa, Madagascar, Seychelles, French Polynesia and Oceania, Hawaii,  Indonesia, East Asia and focus on Japan, Eastern Russia, Australia and New Zealand, Antarctica, the Arctic including the Northwest Passage, trans0ocean positioning voyages. A few highlights include (and it’s a moveable feast:

  • 10- and 16-night Antarctica cruises November – February
  • Iceland & Arctic Circle cruises in summer; also Northwest Passage, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes
  • 6- and 7-night cruises out of Martinique to the Grenadine Islands in the winter; also Cuba (Cuban calls suspended due to a US government ban.
  • 7-night Croatia cruises round-trip out of Venice between May and September; also Western & Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt
  • 9-night New Zealand cruises in January and February; also Australia’s eastern coast
  • 7- to 13-night Alaska cruises in June and July; including Aleutian Islands
  • 13-night Chile cruises in November and February; also Amazon and Orinoco rivers, Sea of Cortez
  • New tropical destinations are being added to include the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, also Maldives and Madagascar, and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, also French Polynesia, Easter Island
  • South and Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Japan, Eastern Russia.
Why Go?

The French flare, the amazing food, the gorgeous interiors — tres chic. In 2018 Ponant signed an agreement with National Geographic Expeditions to have the latter’s experts and photographers come aboard in Australia, New Zealand and Asia/Pacific.

When to Go?

The fleet cruises in different regions of the world at the best time to visit.


LE PONANT is an 88-meter, three-masted sailing ship with lots of wood and nautical touches such as navy blue and white bedding and fabrics in the rooms. Most cabins are on the lowest of the four passenger decks and have twin beds — two rooms have king beds — and there are a few triples. Five larger cabins are higher up on the Antigua Deck.

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL are nearly identical sister ships with the majority of cabins measuring between 200 and 236 square feet, not including the balconies (which all but eight cabins have). Cabins are designed in stylish neutrals of champagne, smoky greys or blues, and crisp whites with pops of color, like a red border on a bed throw or pillow.

All cabins are stocked with L’Occitane toiletries, bathrobes, mini bars and iPods, and a have a great split bathroom set-up — toilet in one little room and a large shower (and/or tub) and sink in another. They also have a desk and great adjustable reading lights on either side of the bed. Many standard cabins can accommodate three people with one on a sofa bed; ideal for families are the Prestige suites, which are ostensibly two connecting standard cabins. There are four large suites on the Deck 6 near the top of the ship.

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

The new 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE (2018), LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER  began arriving in mid-2018 and will continue into 2020. A feature on the new ships is the Blue Eye, an underwater sightseeing lounge. They make up what is termed Ponant Explorer Class with enhanced ice-breaking capabilities.

Public Rooms

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL have two restaurants, one main entertainment lounge, one combination lounge/bar, and a lovely outdoor bar with sea views. There is no casino. Each has a spa with a Turkish steam room, hair salon, and an excellent ocean-view gym with a row of treadmills and recumbent bikes, plus a Kinesis wall with weights, pulls and grips for weight training.

A small library area (with a Wii console nearby) and a boutique round out the public areas, unless you also count the medical clinic. The smaller LE PONANT has two restaurants, two indoor lounges and lots of deck space for sunbathing. All five of the vessels have a platform for watersports when anchored in favorable conditions.


Cuisine is a big part of the Ponant experience, and I still sometimes dream about the dark chocolate mousses we devoured on a L’AUSTRAL cruise to Croatia (I gained several solid pounds on that cruise). Each of the five ships has two restaurants, one a more formal fine-dining multi-course French gourmet venue for dinner and the other a casual buffet restaurant with outdoor and indoor seating and themed offerings. Some of the chefs are French (the pastry chef was on my last cruise) and no matter where they are from, they’ve been schooled in the French culinary tradition.

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Meals incorporate fish and grilled seafood, and plenty of delicious soups and salads of all kinds. When possible, local ingredients are used, from cherries in Kotor, Croatia, to rainbow trout from Nunavut, in the Arctic. Amazing desserts on offer might comprise a hazelnut mousse cake, lemon meringue tarts and that to die-to-for chocolate mousse already mentioned; easily the best desserts I’ve ever had on a cruise ship.

A selection of cheeses from France and Italy are a staple in the buffet and of the complimentary wines generously poured, I remember an especially refreshing French rose at lunch on route to our next Croatian port of call. You can always order a bottle off the extensive menu if you want something extra special.

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

Activities & Entertainment

The ships are in port every day, or nearly so, but if there’s a sea day, most people enjoy simply sunbathing by the pool and soaking up the scenery. In the French way of doing things, there isn’t an abundance of scheduled activities or group events. There are theme cruises from time to time focused on gourmet food and wine, film and topics like oceanography, with experts on board giving talks and demonstrations.

Evenings, a singing duo moves around the ship before and after dinner to serenade passengers as they sip cocktails and chat about the day’s adventures and the ones that lay ahead. At the top of the tiered decks at the stern on LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL is a wonderful al-fresco bar, an ideal place to plant yourself as the ship sails off into the sunset — likewise on LE PONANT’s sun deck. After dinner from time to time, a dance performance or film screening may be scheduled in the show lounge of the four sister ships.

The new and larger 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE, LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER started to debut in mid-2018 and continued into 2020, and the larger 270-passenger LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT will launch polar explorations in April 2021.

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.


Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions, 420 Lexington Avenue, Suite 2838, New York, NY 10170;, 1-888-400-1082.



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G Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

G Adventures

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VARUNA (built 2006; 24 passengers) — Ganges

AMATISTA (built 1994; 30 passengers) – Amazon

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

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

2-3; no elevators.


$ to $$, Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to Go?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Rooms & Dining

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

Along the Same Lines

QuarkOne Ocean, Poseidon Adventures in the polar regions.


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



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Ponant Explorers

Ponant ExplorersThe French-flag Ponant, a small-ship cruise line, is on a major expansion kick with an order for an innovative quartet of PONANT EXPLORERS, 92-cabin ships for use on worldwide itineraries in hot, subtropical and cold climates. Besides having a certified IC (Ice Class) hull for cruising the polar regions, the ships will have a multi-sensorial underwater lounge, more about which will be revealed in May 2017. Stay tuned!

The first building block was laid on February 22nd of this year at the Norwegian Vard shipyard for Lapérouse, while Le Champlain followed on March 1st with projected deliveries in summer 2018. Le Bougainville and Le Dumont d’Urville will appear a year later.

Ponant was founded in 1988 by a dozen French Merchant Navy officers with the then mouthful title of Compagnie des Iles du Ponant, then gradually shorted to Compagnie du Ponant and now simply Ponant. The first ship was Le Ponant, a motor sailer, followed by a succession of five increasingly sophisticated ships.

Click here for more about Ponant.

— Ted Scull

small ship cruises copyright

small ship cruises Swan Hellenic
small ship cruises Swan Hellenic

The beloved Minerva. * Photo: Ted Scull

All Leisure Group, a UK firm that operates Swan Hellenic and its sole ship MINERVA ceased operations in early January. The firm started cultural cruises in the Mediterranean in 1954 was known for its superb lecture program, creative itineraries, and with the MINERVA, its country-house hotel atmosphere, drew mainly British passengers.

G Adventures, an expedition company, has taken on the brand but not the ship. The firm intends to operate a smaller vessel of under 200 passengers, and while keeping the educational lecture program, the experience will be a more active one, using Zodiacs for exploring, and presumably attempting to attract a broader age range. The line will re-emerge in 2018, and loyal Swans will be watching what the new owners have wrought out of this venerable old firm.


small ship cruises copyright

Swan Hellenic

Swan Hellenic, a long-established culturally-oriented British firm that got its start in 1954 was most recently owned by the British firm All-Leisure Holidays until it ceased trading in early 2017. Sold to G Adventures, the line, using Swan’s past passenger lists was expected to resume operations but never did. Now a consortium of international ship-related businesses have vowed to restart the line using two expedition-style ships (152 passengers) that is expected to produce ship number one in late 2021 and the second in the second quarter of 2022. The English-speaking market is expected to be British, US, Canadian, Europeans who speak English, Australians and New Zealanders. While the culturally-oriented thrust is to be continued, there is an initial heavy emphasis on the Arctic and Antarctic polar regions and then the Far East, including Japan and the Philippines, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and South Pacific Islands. The Mediterranean World and Northern Europe, the heart and soul of the old Swan Hellenic, are not mentioned. Until more is known, what follows below the photo is the story of the original Swan Hellenic concept.

What Was Swan Hellenic

One-ship-line Swan had traditionally drawn the upper end of the British market, plus a modest percentage of North Americans, to its cultural enrichment cruises that explore the Mediterranean, northern Europe and East of Suez through the Indian Ocean as far as Southeast and East Asia.

A team of mostly British lecturers accompanied every voyage, and few other cruise lines provided such an intensive year-round educational program that was offered in a most enjoyable social setting.

Having sailed five times with Swan — to the Middle East, Black Sea, France, Iberia and around the British Isles — I took to the British on-board style, the mind stimulation from the lecture program, interesting fellow passengers, and well-orchestrated visits ashore.

Cottages sloping down to Cobh's harbor, Ireland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cottages sloping down to Cobh’s harbor, Ireland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

MINERVA (1996 & rebuilt 2011-12); 2 NEW BUILDS (2021 & 2022, 152 pax)

Passenger Profile

Mostly well-educated British 55 and up, and many repeaters (known as Swans)

Passenger Decks

6, and two elevators, aft and forward of amidships, serve five of the six decks with the forward one also reaches Promenade Deck.


$ – $$  Moderate/Expensive

Included Features

A program of shore excursions in every port include entrance fees and all gratuities aboard and to guides ashore; wine on the captain’s welcome & farewell dinners. flights and transfers to/from the ship (where noted).

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Argentina. * Photo: Ted Scull

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Argentina. * Photo: Ted Scull

Itineraries: Cruises generally last between 14 and 16 days, with some as long as 22; none were repeated within any given year; cruises may be strung together for longer voyages. In the late autumn, the MINERVA crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean and South America, and then sailing via the Panama Canal, cruised the west coast of South America, southbound to the tip, then returned northbound. The route back to Northern Europe is via Panama, Central America, and the Atlantic Isles. By April, the ship will work its way via numerous French ports, Channel calls and into the Baltic. A cruise will circumnavigate Iceland (4 calls) and stop in the Faroes and Shetland. The height of summer is spent in Norway and beyond the Arctic Circle, then via Scotland, Wales, Ireland to Channel Ports. By August 2016 the ship moves south via Portugal and Spain to the Mediterranean. Here the MINERVA remains until January 2017 in the Western Mediterranean, the Adriatic, Greece and as far east as Istanbul. Following a cruise out to the Atlantic Isles, the ship heads up via Iberian ports to be based at Portsmouth, England for the spring and summer 2017. Destinations are France, the Baltic (multiple cruises), Norway, British Isles, Iceland, and Ireland before heading south the Mediterranean in early August for the fall. Inclusive air programs from the U.S. and Canada make reaching the ship more convenient.

Acropolis, Athens. * Photo: Ted Scull

Acropolis, Athens. * Photo: Ted Scull

See Addendum below for two Swan river cruises.

Why Go?

Swan Hellenic arguably offers the best cultural enrichment program afloat with a team of speakers whose biographies are listed in the main brochures. Their topics may include the areas of archaeology, architecture, art history, geography, horticulture, literature, philosophy, religion, and more. Some lecturers are writers, professors, scientists, broadcasters, (former) diplomats, military experts and members of the clergy.

The itineraries are well planned to include the most interesting places in the cruising regions, while the organization aboard and ashore is tops. What may be a plus for some, the atmosphere is thoroughly British; the passengers are generally well educated and table conversation lively and good fun.

When to Go?

The itineraries are far-reaching and geared to when the weather is likely to be the most favorable, such as most of the summer and fall in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean and winter months in the warmer climes of Central and South America.

Lisbon's trams climb and descend hills across the city. * Photo: Ted Scull

Lisbon’s trams climb and descend hills across the city. * Photo: Ted Scull


Of 190 cabins, 144 are outside, and 44 of these (336-340 sq. ft) located on Sun Deck and Bridge Deck include generous-sized balconies. The standard cabins, Aegean and Baltic decks, both outside and inside cabins are small (140 sq. ft). All accommodations come with flat-screen TVs, fridge, hairdryer, bathrobes, fresh fruit basket, binoculars and personal safe. A communal launderette is free to use.

Minerva's library contains more than 5,000 books. * Photo: Ted Scull

Minerva’s library contains more than 5,000 books. * Photo: Ted Scull

Public Rooms

MINERVA’S country hotel atmosphere is perhaps best typified by Shackleton’s Bar, a roomy U-shaped, light-wood-paneled lounge with polished wood floors and oriental-style carpets. A pianist plays in one corner and a stunning set of black and white photographs depicting Ernest Shackleton’s aborted Antarctic expedition and rescue are mounted on the walls.

Forward on the same Main Deck, the Darwin Lounge, held up by white fluted ionic columns, offers theater-style seating for lectures and evening entertainment and otherwise lounge-type seating, a wooden dance floor, and bandstand. On Bridge Deck portside, the Wheeler Bar pays homage to Sir Mortimer Wheeler, one of Swan’s founders — scholar, intrepid traveler, and later chairman. One section offers wicker furniture set amidst potted palms and another, overstuffed armchairs and couches facing mahogany tables.

On the same deck, the long gallery-style library staffed by the lecturers’ spouses, is lined with open book shelves (5,000 volumes), comfortable reading (and perhaps some snoozing) chairs, reference books, and flat surfaces for studying atlases and using the computer stations.

If buying an e-mail package, the rates are remarkably inexpensive. Next-door are the paneled smoking lounge with button leather chairs and card room for bridge players. High up on Promenade Deck, the Orpheus Lounge serves as an observatory with 270-degree views, lounge seating and a bar with music at night. An outdoor promenade is ideal for that constitutional and wraps around the Orpheus Lounge.


Meals are taken at an open-seating restaurant, a boon for meeting fellow passengers and great for single travelers. Meals are invariably lively social events, full of good conversation. In the main restaurant, jacket and tie are de rigueur at dinner, while the informal Veranda, an attractive buffet restaurant, is always casual and offers additional outdoor seating, and barbecues, in fine weather. Food is good to very good and should suit most American and British tastes.

Gathering for pre-dinner drinks on the afterdeck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Gathering for pre-dinner drinks on the afterdeck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Activities & Entertainment

The lecture program is tops with several speakers on each cruise chosen for their knowledge, presentation and appropriateness for the specific itinerary and last 40 minutes with a Q&A. Two lectures are generally scheduled for half days at sea while as many as four are presented when there is a full day.

The talks are directly connected to the cruising region and the speakers accompany the shore program. Sampling: Martin Bell, former BBC war correspondant and Member of Parliament; Professor Carole Hillenbrand OBE FBA, current professor of Islamic History at University of St. Andrews with six books published; Dame Jenni Murray, lecturer in Ancient History at Oxford, and an associate priest; and Sir Roy Strong, historian, broadcaster, diarist, and gardener and former Director of the V&A and National Portrait Gallery.

All talks may be enjoyed live on the cabin TVs. A pianist, violinist, small band and solo entertainments are also part of the scene before and after dinner. Films are screened and trivia quizzes are good fun. A swimming pool, located aft, is surrounded by wooden chairs and tables under umbrellas. Additionally, the Promenade Deck up by the funnel has blue and white cushioned plastic deck chairs shared with a small glassed-in gymnasium.

Special Notes

An attractive and useful Cruise Book placed in every cabin includes descriptions of the included excursions and the additional shore trips at a supplementary cost; a recommended reading list; guest speakers’ names and backgrounds and introductory articles they may have written.

All-Leisure Holidays, Swan Hellenic’s parent company, also operates the 50-passenger HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS, see the Hebridean Island Cruises website; and the 540-passenger VOYAGER under the Voyages of Discovery banner.

Along the Same Lines

No other small ship line has quite the same high standards nor the number of cultural-oriented lecturers per voyage. Lindblad would be roughly equal in quality on its European program, while it is better known for its expedition-oriented voyages.

Contact Info

US Agents – All-Leisure Holidays, 1800 S.E. 10th Avenue, Suite 205, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 3316; ; 866-923-9182.


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

Mahabaahu on Brahmaputra River

International Expeditions ranks amongst the top adventure travel firms and is known for its creative itineraries and highly qualified staff who accompany its small group land and sea tours.

Darien, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull

Darien, Panama. * Photo: Ted Scull


International Expeditions (I.E.) belongs to a consortium of high-end travel firms that include Quark Expeditions and Zegrahm Expeditions, both covered on, and TCS World Travel and TRAVCOA (not yet covered), both with selections of small-ship travel in their overall land and air programs. While I.E. offers mostly adventure land travel, there are some excellent small expedition ship itineraries offered as well.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

As several very different ships are involved in the expedition program they will be matched with the specific itineraries. See the itinerary details below, which at any given time are representative of I.E.’s offerings.


$$ to $$$ Expensive to Very Pricey. Included features will vary greatly from tour to tour, as the boats are chartered not owned by International Expeditions.

Itineraries – A Sampling as itineraries changes from year to year

Cuba Voyage: A 10-day land and cruise itinerary includes two full days on land with nights on board in Havana and visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, Juventud (Isle of Youth) and a nature reserve. Then embark in the 46-passenger PANORAMA, a sleek motor sailer for the rest of the itinerary, including docking near Havana for three days with access to the capital city. Excursions include visits to historic town centers, national scenic areas and meeting locals while visiting student activities, art and music workshops, shop owners, markets and museums. The itinerary also operates in the opposition direction. Departures: January to April.

See the following website to answer questions that allow US citizens to travel to Cuba with International Expeditions:

Internatioal Expeditions

Colorful arcaded buildings along a Havana street. * Photo: Cuba Tourism

Amazon River Cruise: A 9-night cruise tour with two nights in Iquitos that emphasizes the Amazon River and its tributaries with seven nights aboard the 38-passenger ZAFIRO, while visiting local villages (which vary between cruises) to see their way of life, the key feature is Peru’s Pacaya-Samiria Reserve to look for sloths, monkeys, pink and gray dolphins, and a wide variety of tropical birds. The check list runs to 143 different birds from the Amazonian Umbrellabird to Long-billed Woodcreeper. Departures: year-round except a brief hiatus at the beginning of the year. Available extensions to Guayaquil, Machu Picchu, Ecuador’s Amazon.

Upper Amazon, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull

Upper Amazon, Peru. * Photo: Ted Scull


EVOLUTION Cabin 6. * Photo: Unkown

EVOLUTION Cabin 6. * Photo: Unknown

Galapagos Islands: 10-day itineraries cover two different island itineraries with all year-round departures, beginning with a flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador to the islands and a week aboard the 32-passenger expedition vessel EVOLUTION noted for its roomy public spaces, indoor/outdoor dining, open decks with outdoor bar, hot tub, and comfortable cabins ranging in size from 140 to 263 sq. ft. Some departures are geared to families. The islands are noted for highly diverse landscapes from desert dry to well-watered forests, and some of the wildlife is unique to these islands. Enjoy walking amongst penguins (yes, not only Antarctica), sea lions, marine iguanas, tortoises and those blue-footed boobies. Talks aboard from the Darwin Station staff and small groups ashore. Departures: Year-round except September.

Panama Cruise: This 9-day cruise embarks in Panama City aboard the 24-passenger DISCOVERY to seek wildlife and visit with distinctive local inhabitants living in relative isolation much as they always have, and transit a good portion of the Panama Canal, quite a different experience on a small ship. Sail out into the Pacific Ocean and enter the Darian jungle region via narrow waterways in a small launch to visit with the Embera Indians. Then as a complete contrast onto the Pearl Islands just off the coast for some snorkeling and swimming. Enter the Panama Canal and sail through two separate sets of locks that raise the ship 85 feet while hearing about the recent enlargement of the canal to handle the world’s largest container vessels. Enter Gatun Lake and stop at the Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Center located on one of the islands. Wildlife to be seen include crocodiles, iguana, sloths, and monkeys, then enter the Chagres River for bird sightseeing and a visit to a 16th-century Spanish fort, built to protect the gold mining trade. Travel back to Panama City via the Panama Railroad, the world’s shortest transcontinental railroad at 48 miles in length, and predating the Panama Canal.

Diccovery, Panama. * Photo: Unknown

Discovery, Panama. * Photo: Unknown

Papua New Guinea: This 16-day tour to Papua New Guinea is largely by air beginning and ending in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. However, three nights along the Sepik River aboard the SEPIK SPIRIT positions you well inland to remote backwater people who first had outside contact in the 1930’s. Besides visiting the Huli “wigmen” and hearing Mt. Hagen’s “sing sing” performed by locals in elaborate costumes and body paint, there is much wildlife to see — some only seen in this part of the world such as cassowaries, kookaburras, bowerbirds, lorikeets, cockatoos and birds of paradise. Departure dates are on request.

Kaziranga's one-horned rhino. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Kaziranga’s one-horned rhino. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

India’s Kaziranga and Brahmaputra: This 12-day itinerary combines land travel to Indian state of Assam and its Kaziranga National Park and a 6-night cruise on the Brahmaputra River, plus a stay in Kolkata (Calcutta), Bengal’s capital city. After two nights seeing the city’s distinctly Bengali and British colonial sections, head north via a short flight to Assam for a jeep safari to Kaziranga National Park to see the world’s only one-horned rhinos, plus wild Asian elephants, water buffalo and hog deer. The cruise aboard the riverboat MAHABAAHU lasts for six days following a portion of the massive Brahmaputra River that spreads far and wide in Assam before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. (The river starts high up in the Himalayan range and tumbles down the steepest gorge in the world, eroding and picking up sediment as it goes, passing through China before reaching India, and then finally flowing through Bangladesh and to the sea via the Bay of Bengal.) The cruise visits Assam tribal villages and tea plantations, with gangetic dolphins leaping in and out of the river and Kaziranga’s wildlife coming down to the banks to drink at dawn. Depending on the river levels when you travel, marvel at the vast expanse of sand bars within the striated Brahmaputra. Visit Mishing villages built on platforms over the river, watch priests performing religious services, and view Hindu temples to the Lord Shiva as well as indigenous Tai Ahom architecture. Cruises operate for International Expeditions in the cooler months.

Villagers along the banks of the Brahmaputra. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Villagers along the banks of the Brahmaputra. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


The Ships Used in the Above Itineraries

DISCOVERY is a 24-passenger catamaran built in 1994 manned by 11 crew. The 12 cabins have either queen or twin beds and windows that stretch the length of the rooms. The dining room and bar on the upper deck are enveloped by floor-to-ceiling glass. Above that the observation deck has lounge chairs and a BBQ. At the stern, there is a platform for lowering kayaks and Zodiacs.

EVOLUTION, completed in 2005, takes 32 passengers in double, queen and twin-bedded cabins that range in size from 140 to 263 sq. ft. Meals offer both Ecuadoran and Continental choices at one sitting. The observation deck is canopied covered and has a bar for relaxing at the end of the day’s activities ashore or in the water. Two kayaks are available for passenger use, and the bridge has an open policy most of the time. A doctor is carried and may accompany passengers on excursions.

ZAFIRO takes 38 passengers in 19 suites (17 at 226 sq. ft., master suite 248 sq. ft., & Zafiro suite 480 sq.ft.) on two decks with floor-to-ceiling windows (Upper Deck suites with balconies), indoor lounge with bar, outdoor deck with bar and Jacuzzi, dining room aft, massage room and gym.

MAHABAAHU, meaning “mighty arms,” is a five-deck 46-passenger Indian riverboat, completed in 2011, with a crew of 28. Good-size windowed cabins with en-suite bathrooms have satellite TV, personal safe and minibar. Meals are a selection of Indian and Continental menus using locally sourced food. As the boat is tied up at night, the evenings present local entertainment, lectures keyed to the sights ashore and atmospheric bonfires and drinks on the remote sandbars where the boat anchors and ties up to stakes banged into the ground. Mornings, an hour of yoga is offered on deck or on a nearby sandbar. The top deck is partly open and partly covered for river viewing while underway, and there is a small swimming pool, spa and library collection. An elevator connects the decks.

small ship India cruises

Yoga on a Brahmaputra River beach. * Photo: Noni Chawla

PANORAMA is a three-masted motor sailer built in 1993 that accommodates 46 passengers in 24 cabins arranged over three decks, the top two with windows and lowest with portholes. Inside spaces are the restaurant, lounge and library with an open foredeck at the bow and after deck at the stern. A swimming platform may be used when conditions permit. The crew numbers 16-18.

SEPIK SPIRIT offers 9 windowed cabins for 18 passengers and a bar-lounge that connects to the restaurant, both spaces decorated with Papua New Guinea carved wooden art. The top deck has both covered and open sections. She is moored in the river as a hotel ship (she does not sail) with excursions undertaken daily in launches.

SEPIK SPIRIT. * Photo: Unknown

SEPIK SPIRIT. * Photo: Unknown

Along the Same Lines

Abercrombie & Kent, G Adventures, Tauck, and Zegrahm Expeditions


International Expeditions One Environs Park Helena, AL 35080; 855-246-0399 (USA/Canada) Worldwide 205-28-1700;



Star Legend heads back to Asia, including Thailand's Ko Yao Noi. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Star Legend heads back to Asia, including Thailand’s Ko Yao Noi. * Photo: Windstar Cruises

Windstar is Asia bound again after a three-year hiatus, positioning the 212-passenger STAR LEGEND there beginning in November 2017 through April 2018. Offering a varied repertoire of mostly 14-night itineraries, including some brand new routes for the line, the cruises start and end in Asia’s most culturally rich cities, from Hong Kong to Tokyo, Singapore and Bangkok, making it convenient to spend a few days exploring before and after the cruise. Here are some highlights of Windstar’s upcoming Asia plans:

14 nights, Best of the Philippines & Borneo. This brand-new route for Windstar sails between Singapore and Hong Kong via Malaysia and Borneo, with a focus on the beautiful islands of the Philippines, including Palawan, Boracay and Hundred Islands National Park.

10 nights, Grand Japan. Another new itinerary sails between Tokyo and Osaka, with highlights including Busan, South Korea, famous for its beaches and hot springs; Hiroshima to visit the Memorial Peace Arch (a UNESCO historical site); and the sacred shrines of Shingu with their traditional torii gates.

14 nights, Marvels of China & the Japanese Islands. This one cruises from Hong Kong to Beijing via Taiwan, Japan, and Mainland China, berthing in Hong Kong’s  gorgeous Victoria Harbour, which is only accessible to smaller ships. Calls include cosmopolitan Taipei, Taiwan; tropical Japanese islands; and Shanghai via the scenic  Huangpu River, which is only navigable by small ships.

14 nights, Splendors of Japan & South Korea. Cruise between Beijing, China and Tokyo, Japan, and visit South Korea’s Jeju City to see the world’s largest lava tunnels, and Japan’s scenic Shikoku Island, known for its temples. This cruise is offered at the end of the Asia season in spring, the ideal time to see the country’s legendary cherry blossoms in full bloom.

Bangkok's gilded Royal Palace. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Bangkok’s gilded Royal Palace. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

14 nights, Icons of Southeast Asia. Sail between Hong Kong and Bangkok and visit ports in Thailand, Vietnam and China. Highlights include Vietnam’s Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; stops in historic Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City; and a call on exotic Bangkok, docking right in town as only small ships can do.

18 nights, The Wonders of Arabia. This Athens to Dubai repositioning cruise in the fall of 2017 on route to Asia includes a daylight transit of the Suez Canal; time in historic Petra, Jordan; and an opportunity to see the stunning pyramids in Luxor, Egypt. 

16 nights, Pearls of the Indian Ocean. Continuing on to Asia, journey from Dubai to Singapore via India (Mumbai, Mangalore, Cochin), Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia, visiting both pristine natural sites and teeming metropolises.


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How to Pick a Small Ship Cruise

KID-FRIENDLY (age 12+) small ship cruises

Thanks to sporty activities like kayaking, hiking and snorkeling, these lines are great for families during summers and holidays. 

Alaskan Dream CruisesAmaWaterways (Disney charter); AustralisBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook Cruises; Celebrity Expeditions; Coral Expeditions; EcoventuraG Adventures; Island WindjammersLe Boat Lindblad Expeditions; Ponant; SeaDream Yacht Club; SeaTrek Adventure Cruises; Silolona Sojourns; Star Clippers; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures; Uniworld Boutique River Cruise CollectionVariety Cruises

WILDLIFE-focused small ship cruises

These lines offer the most opportunities to spot wildlife relatively close up, whether in the sea, up in the sky or on the shoreline.

Abercrombie & Kent; Alaskan Dream Cruises; Aqua Expeditions; AustralisBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook CruisesCelebrity CruisesEcoventuraG Adventures; GreenTracksHapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises; Lindblad Expeditions; Oceanwide Expeditions; Poseidon Expeditions; Quark Expeditions; Silolona SojournsUn-Cruise Adventures

HISTORIC small ships (50 years +)

These ships are all more than 50 years old, though some have been rebuilt to varying degrees.

Hurtigruten (Lofoten 1965); Gota Canal Steamship Company (Juno 1874, Wilhelm Tham 1912, Diana 1931); GreenTracks (Rio Amazonas 1899); Hebridean Island Cruises (Hebridean Princess 1964); Oceanwide Expeditions (Rembrandt Van Rijn early 1900s and Noorderlicht 1910); Sea Cloud Cruises (Sea Cloud 1931)


These lines’ ships are based on traditional ship-building styles, but are not actually old in age.

American Queen Steamboat Company (American Queen  19th century steamboat design); Island Windjammers (Diamant  brigantine schooner); Pandaw River Cruises (entire fleet  British colonial river steamer style); Sea Cloud Cruises (Sea Cloud II  three-masted barque); SeaTrek Adventure Cruises (Katharina & Ombak Putih  Indonesian schooners); Silolona Sojourns (Silolona & Sidatu Bua  traditional Indonesia two-masted cargo schooners); Star Clipper (Star Flyer & Star Clipper four-masted barkentine-rigged clipper ship, Royal Clipper  full-rigged five-masted clipper ship); Un-Cruise Adventures (S.S. Legacy  American coastal night boat); Variety Cruises (Galileo only)

Small ship cruises to ALASKA

These lines spend summers in the Inside Passage and Gulf of Alaska.

Alaskan Dream Cruises; Lindblad Expeditions; PonantSilversea Expeditions; Un-Cruise Adventures 

Small ship cruises in the GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

These lines offer year-round (or nearly) cruises in the Galapagos (with reviews of more Galapagos-bound QuirkyCruise lines coming soon).

Celebrity CruisesEcoventuraG AdventuresGreenTracksLindblad Expeditions; Silversea Expeditions; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures; Zegrahm Expeditions

Small ship cruises in the CARIBBEAN

These lines all spend part of the year cruising the islands of the Caribbean; mostly the southern and eastern regions.

G Adventures; Island Windjammers; Lindblad Expeditions; Pearl Seas Cruises; Ponant; Sea Cloud Cruises; SeaDream Yacht Club; Silversea Cruises; Star Clippers; Swan Hellenic; Un-Cruise Adventures; Variety Cruises; Windstar Cruises; Zegrahm Expeditions

Small ship cruises going to CUBA

These lines offer cruises focused on Cuba, the hottest cruise destination on the high seas.

Abercrombie & Kent, G AdventuresLindblad Expeditions; Pearl Seas Cruises; Ponant; Sea Cloud CruisesStar Clippers; Swan Hellenic

Small ship cruises in ASIA

These lines have ships in Asia all or part of each year on river and oceangoing cruises.

AmaWaterwaysAqua ExpeditionsG AdventuresHapag-Lloyd Expeditions CruisesLindblad ExpeditionsPandaw River CruisesPonantSeaTrek Adventure Cruises; Scenic CruisesSilolona SojournsSilversea ExpeditionsStar Clippers; Tauck; Vantage Deluxe World CruisesZegrahm Expeditions

SHORT small ship cruises ITINERARIES of less than a week

Below are lines that offer 1- to 5-night itineraries, ideal to tag onto a regional land trip.

Aqua Expeditions (3-4 nights); Australis (3-7 nights);  Captain Cook Cruises (3-4 nights); Gota Canal Steamship Company (1-5 nights); GreenTracks (3-4 nights); Island Windjammers (6 nights); Magna Carta Steamship Company (5 & 7 nights); Majestic Line (3-6 nights); Marine Link Tours (5 nights); Ontario Waterway Cruises (5 nights); Pandaw River Cruises (1-4 nights); SeaDream Yacht Club (4-6 nights); St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (4 nights)

ACTIVE small ship cruises

These lines offer opportunities for water sports like kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, sailing, snorkeling and diving; on land, cycling and hiking.

Alaskan Dream CruisesAqua ExpeditionsBlue Lagoon Cruises; Captain Cook Cruises; Celebrity Expeditions; Compagnie Polynesienne de Transport Maritrime (C.P.T.M.), Coral ExpeditionsEcoventuraEmerald WaterwaysG Adventures; GreenTracksIsland Windjammers; Lindblad Expeditions; Oceanwide ExpeditionsPandaw River CruisesPonant; Poseidon Expeditions; Quark ExpeditionsSeaDream Yacht Club; SeaTrek Adventure CruisesSilolona Sojourns; Star Clippers; Un-Cruise Adventures; Variety CruisesZegrahm Expeditions


These lines see an almost entirely North American passenger contingent.

Alaska Dream Cruises; American Cruise Lines; American Queen Steamboat Company; Blount Small Ship Cruises; Grand Circle Cruise Line; Island Windjammers; Marine Link Tours (mostly Canadians); Ontario Waterway Cruises (mostly Canadians); Pearl Seas Cruises; St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Tauck; Un-Cruise Adventures

Small ship lines cruising UNUSUAL WATERWAYS

By design, most small-ship cruises focus on off-beat routes, but these lines particularly so.

American Cruise Lines (Eastern Seaboard Intracoastal Waterway); Australis (Tierra del Fuego); Blount Small Ship Adventures (New York State rivers and canals, Eastern Seaboard Intracoastal Waterway); Gota Canal Steamship Company (Cross-Sweden canals); Hapag-Lloyd Expeditions Cruises (Philippines and eastern Indonesia); Le Boat (canals, lochs, lakes and tributaries of 8 European countries); Magna Carta Steamship Company (canals of Scotland); Majestic Line (Argyll, Western Scotland, Hebridean isles); Marine Link Tours (British Columbia fjords, inlets); Ontario Waterway Cruises (Ontario’s canals, rivers, lakes); Pandaw River Cruises (Upper Irrawaddy, Chindwin, Upper Mekong); SeaTrek Adventure Cruises (eastern islands of Indonesia); Silolona Sojourns (eastern islands of Indonesia); St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (Ottawa River)

Small ship cruises with multiple CULTURE-FOCUSED LECTURERS

While most small-ship cruises are led by an expert guide/lecturer, these lines carry multiple experts, often with audio-visual presentations about the destinations and related topics.

Lindblad Expeditions (Europe with NG Orion); Silversea ExpeditionsSwan Hellenic

Best small ship cruises to access by RAIL CONNECTIONS  

The following ports are served by multiple daily passenger intercity rail services  Amtrak for the USA and Via Rail for Canada. If a port is served by only one train a day, it is not included. A short taxi ride will be all that is required between the railroad station and the port.

USA Ports
Boston, MA American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Portland, Me — American Cruise Lines, Pearl Seas Cruises; New York, NY American Cruise Lines, Blount SSA, Pearl Seas Cruises; Baltimore, MD American Cruise Lines; Charleston, SC — American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Jacksonville, FL American Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Cruises; Chicago, IL Blount Small Ship Cruises, Pearl Seas Cruises; St. Louis, MO American Cruise Lines, American SB Co.; Portland, OR American Cruise Lines, American SB Co, Lindblad Expeditions, Un-Cruise Adventures; Vancouver, WA American Steamboat Co; Seattle, WA American Cruise Lines, Un-Cruise Adventures.

Canada Ports
Kingston, ON Ontario Waterway Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Ottawa, ON Ontario Waterway Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Quebec, QE Pearl Seas Cruises, St. Lawrence Cruise Lines; Toronto, ON Pearl Seas Cruises.

Absolutely STUNNING SCENERY to ogle from the decks of small ship cruises

All small-ship cruises go to some really attractive places, but these are the prettiest of them all.

Alaska Glacier Bay National Park; New York Hudson River in the fall; Argentina Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park; Antarctica — on a blue sky day; Austria Wachau Valley of the Danube River; France Burgundy along the Soane; Germany Moselle River in fall; Vietnam Halong Bay; Pacific Ocean French Polynesia and Fiji Out Islands; Norwegian Fjords Geirangerfjord; Greek Isles — Santorini; Alaska Misty Fjords; Thailand Phi Phi Islands; Malta Valletta harbor; Caribbean St. John; Caribbean St. Lucia; West Papua, Indonesia Raja Ampat Islands; Russian Far East Kamchatka & Kuril Islands


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Blue Lagoon Cruises

by Heidi Sarna & Ted Scull.

See for yourself why small-ship cruises are the only way to go.

Small-ship cruises squeeze through narrow locks. The Gota Canal Steamship Company’s Juno on Sweden’s picturesque Gota Canal.

The 1874-built Juno passes through 66 locks between Gothenberg and Stockholm, Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The 1874-built Juno passes through 66 locks between Gothenberg and Stockholm, Sweden. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


Small ships carry aboard even smaller vessels for sightseeing. Un-Cruise Adventures takes passengers within feet of icebergs and glaciers.

Alaskan ice by skiff. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures

Alaskan ice by skiff. * Photo: Un-Cruise Adventures


Small-ship cruises invite you to climb the masts (if they have them!). Harness up and scramble to the crow’s nest look-out aboard Star Clippers 3 clipper ships.

You can climb the masts on Star Clippers cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

You can climb the masts on Star Clippers cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


Small-ship cruises put you in close contact with the local population. Coral Expeditions travels to Papua New Guinea.

Coral Discoverer off Manum Island, Papua New Guinea. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Coral Discoverer off Manum Island, Papua New Guinea. * Photo: Coral Expeditions


Small-ship cruises often carry kayaks on board. Paddle your way around the nooks and crannies of Alaska’s Inside Passage with Alaska Dream Cruises.

Alaskan Dream, a catamaran. * Photo: Alaska Dream Cruises.

Alaskan Dream, a catamaran. * Photo: Alaska Dream Cruises.


Small-ship cruises invite you to get your hands (and feet) dirty. Here passengers walk down the banks of the Mekong River in Cambodia to board a Pandaw river boat.

Adventure is in store for Pandaw passengers. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Adventure is in store for Pandaw passengers. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


Small ships are often historical. Silolona Sojourns’ stunning Sidatu Bua is a replica of a classic wooden Indonesian Phinisi from centuries ago.

The Sidatu Bua is a masterpiece like her sister. * Photo: Silolona Sojourns

The Sidatu Bua is a masterpiece like her sister. * Photo: Silolona Sojourns


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Grand Circle has the hots for American seniors and solo travelers, often by offering singles low or no single supplements, and no single supplements on pre- and post- trip extensions.

Grand Circle Cruise Line is an arm of Grand Circle Travel, founded in 1958 as a tour operator for senior adults. In addition, another subsidiary is Overseas Adventure Travel catering to the over 50 for land and sea trips, overlapping with the cruise line for adventure cruise programs. The firm concentrates on European river cruising with its wholly-owned fleet of small ships, and otherwise both owned and chartered vessels cruising throughout Northern and Southern (Mediterranean) Europe, plus Egypt, Panama, and Antarctica. Add-on land packages are also a big draw.

Ships, Years Delivered & Number of Passengers: The sizeable fleet is divided between small riverboats and ocean-going ships, either owned or privately-chartered by Grand Circle.

The privately-owned European river fleet numbers eleven: BIZET (built 2002 & 120 passengers) for the Seine; PROVENCE (b. 2000 & 46 p) for the Rhone & Soane; RIVER ARIA (b. 2001 & 162 p), RIVER ADAGIO (b. 2003 &162 p), RIVER CONCERTO, RIVER HARMONY & RIVER MELODY (b. 2000 & 140 p), and RIVER RHAPSODY (b. 1999 & 140 p) for the Rhine, Mosel, Main & Danube; RIVER ALLEGRO (b. 1991/remodeled 2011 & 90 p) for the Elbe; NEFERTITI (b. 2000, 75p) for the Nile.

Bizet passes Andelys, France. * Photo: Grand Circle

Bizet passes Andelys, France. * Photo: Grand Circle

The privately-owned ocean-going fleet numbers four: CORINTHIAN (b. 1990 & 98 p) for Europe, Morocco, South America and Antarctica. ARTEMIS, ATHENA & ARETHUSA (b. 2007 & 50 p) with lots of itineraries in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. Newly-added is the 89-passenger CLIO (formerly Tere Moana and built in 1988 as Le Levant) that began cruising in June 2016 in Northern Europe, Iberia and the Mediterranean.

Privately-chartered ships: DISCOVERY, a catamaran (b. 204 & 24 p) for 12-day cruise tour to Panama and the Panama Canal (on board 3 nights). NEFERTITI, a Nile riverboat (b. 2000, refurbished 2008, 75 p). 5 decks, no elevator.

Passenger Profile: Grand Circle caters to Americans of the 50 years and up set, including many solo travelers, 3 in 10 according to the line.

Passenger Decks: River fleet (46-162 passengers except where noted): RIVER ADAGIO & RIVER ARIA, RIVER RHAPSOY & RIVER HARMONY (4 decks & elevator between 2 cabin decks); BIZET (3 decks & elevator between cabin decks); PROVENCE (46 p) & RIVER ALLEGRO (90 p) and both 3 decks & no elevator);  CORINTHIAN (5 decks & elevator to all decks); ARTEMIS, ATHENA & ARETHUSA (4 decks & no elevator); catamaran DISCOVERY (3 decks & no elevator).

Cruising Germany's Moselle River vineyards in the autumn. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cruising Germany’s Moselle River vineyards in the autumn. * Photo: Ted Scull

Price: $$ Moderate. For solo travelers, go to

Included features: All cruises of many differing lengths: international airfare, excursions ashore and listed events aboard & ashore; beer, wine and soft drinks at lunch & dinner; Internet (limited to dedicated public areas and certain river stretches); port charges; and gratuities to drivers & local guides but not ship personnel. 5% frequent traveler credit is applied to your next booking. River cruise tour groups are limited to 47; while small oceangoing ships are limited to 25 when ashore.

Itineraries: European river cruises and many pre- and post cruise tours including land travel and hotel stays (9 to 28 days)  take in Belgian & Dutch waterways; Rhine & Mosel; Main and Danube; Elbe; Seine; Rhone & Saone; La Rochelle, Bordeaux and cruise the Gironde, Garonne & Dordogne rivers; Myanmar (Burma) river cruise tour along the Irrawaddy. Small ship ocean-going cruises and cruise tours to North Europe, Iberia and Morocco & Antarctica with the CORINTHIAN; Mediterranean cruise-tours with ARTEMIS, ATHENA & ARETHUSA; Panama and the canal cruise tours with DISCOVERY. CLIO cruises North Europe, Iberia and the Mediterranean. In winter, CLIO offers 11-night cruise tours to Cuba, sailing from Miami for a 7-night cruise calling at six ports, then a 3-night hotel stay in Havana and flight back to Miami. Alternate trips will start with a flight from Miami to Havana for 3 nights, and a 7-night cruise that returns to Miami. Rates include ship and air transportation, all tours, gratuities and visa. China land tour and Yangtze River cruise operate March to May, July, September and October using the 218 passenger VICTORIA SELINA, VICTORIA LIANNA or similar riverboat. Most recently, 15-night Egyptian cruise tours spend seven nights aboard the chartered 75-passenger riverboat NEFERTITI from February to the end of May and again August through December. Passenger go on tour in groups of no more than 25.  Israel/Jordan extensions add another week.

A medieval hill town in Bulgaria is a destination on a lower Danube River cruise.

A medieval hill town in Bulgaria is a destination on a lower Danube River cruise. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go? Every region that Grand Circle covers has its own attractions. River cruises are an ideal way to see the cities, towns, castles, palaces, landscapes, cultural sites and river life without packing and unpacking. Small ship cruises allow calls to both popular and less frequented ports, and inshore cruising where big ships cannot go.

When to Go? In Europe, the peak summer months will see the most tourists and some land destinations may be crowded, while before June and after September, the numbers fall off. The earliest and latest dates will be chilly and may have more rain. Bundle up for the Christmas markets on river cruises, a different sort of experience.

Cabins: Riverboats have many shared features: mostly all outside cabins with picture windows, though windows on the lowest deck will not open as there are positioned just above the waterline. Cabins are most often about 160 sq. ft., and some have narrow step out balconies. TVs with CNN and radio are common features. Beds are usually fixed twins with some convertible to sofas during the day. Many cabins are equipped with emergency call buttons.

Adriatic coastal cruise. * Photo: Grand Circle

Adriatic coastal cruise to Croatian and Montenegro ports. * Photo: Grand Circle

The three Mediterranean small ships have Upper Deck double cabins with balconies, Main Deck cabins with portholes that open and measure 150 to 170 sq. ft. Two singles on the crew deck are 140 sq.ft., with fixed portholes. The CORINTHIAN offers what are referred to as suites, measuring from 215 to 285 sq. ft. that in effect means a separate sitting area with sofa, occasional chair and coffee table. Beds are arranged as twins or queens. The top two decks of suites have small balconies and all features windows, apart from seven on the lowest deck with portholes. Cabins amenities are TV, DVD/CD player, mini-refrigerator and telephone. The catamaran DISCOVERY has small windowed cabins with twin or queen beds. CLIO’s cabins range from 194 to 205 sq.ft. and some have balconies. Very attractive open and covered aft veranda for dining.

The Corinthian * Photo: Grand Circle

The 98-passenger Corinthian cruises European waters and Antarctica. * Photo: Grand Circle

Single supplements are often the lowest of any river cruise line and in some cases are waived completely. The line offers pick a travel companion on a site where interested passengers share profiles.

Public Rooms: The riverboats share in common a forward observation lounge with bar here or adjacent to the aft situated dining room, and most have a small library. The Sun Decks will have open and covered lounge spaces. The Mediterranean ships have adjacent lounges and restaurants (with bar) and Sun Deck with bar and grill. The CORINTHIAN’S public spaces are all stacked aft with the dining room on the portholed lowest deck, and lounge and library above that. An outdoor café serves breakfast and light lunches. The top deck offers a Jacuzzi, and massage room is located on the deck below. The DISCOVERY’S single space serves as viewing lounge, bar, library and dining room. Covered deck space is aft on two decks. CLIO has two dining areas, two bars, library, and whirlpool.

Dining: All vessels operate with one open sitting, and the small ships have a reputation for more creative food than the riverboats, aided by the smaller number of passengers and higher per diem fares. Food caters to American tastes with some regional specialties.

Activities & Entertainment: Shared activities ashore are limited to groups of 25 passengers on the small ships and 47 on the river fleet. Well trained program directors, native or local residents of the region, shepherd the groups. Activities aboard the riverboats may include classes on painting or cooking, language lessons, glassblowing and talks on such topics as river commerce, politics and the European Union. Shore excursions may be on foot or use a bus to see the sights and make visits to schools, farms, a private home or porcelain factory. The small ships offer both talks geared to the region, and included sightseeing forays in port are often on foot when the ship docks close to the center, with buses for more distances destinations. The DISCOVERY offers outdoor activities to islands, national parks, small villages and water sports in addition to the cruise tour’s Panama land portion.

Special Notes: Grand Circle often offers some of the lowest fares for its river cruise program. WHAT TO EXPECT outlines physical requirements such as the amount of walking, accessibility for travelers with mobility restrictions, types of terrain, transportation used and climate information. Grand Circle Travel operates world-wide land tours, and China tours include a 4-night Victoria Cruises’ river vessel along the Yangtze.

N.B. If Grand Circle interests you, and even if not!, sign up for the weekly Inside Scoop, a round up of travel news and insights, weekly films, recipes, themed destinations, and travelers’ photos.

Along the Same Lines: Other river operators and Viking’s new ocean-going fleet, though with a much larger capacity.

Contact: Grand Circle Cruise Line, 347 Congress Street, Boston, MA 02210;; 800-221=2610


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Blue Lagoon Cruises

10 Great Places Only Small Ship Cruises Go

by Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

If you love traveling by water, here are 10 neat places around the world only accessible by our wee quirky fleet of ships, from North America to South America and Europe out to the Far East. Big ships can’t get to any of these cool spots.

The Islands of New England, USA

Yes, a couple of large cruise ships have called at Martha’s Vineyard disgorging many hundreds into poor Vineyard Haven, but they can’t get anywhere near the more charming town of Nantucket. Neither can they get close to the utterly Victorian nature of Block Island, tiny Cutty Hunk in the Elizabeth Islands or through the flood gates to access New Bedford, the former whaling capital of the world.

Jared Coffin House, Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

Jared Coffin House, Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

New York State’s Hudson River Valley

A big cruise ship could not get you beyond the New York City limits, while one of our small ship cruises will take you 150 breathtaking miles up America’s Rhine past stately mansions with Hudson River views and the spectacle of fall foliage as breathtaking as Vermont’s.

Walkway over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. * Photo: Ted Scull

Walkway over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. * Photo: Ted Scull

Alaska’s Glacier Bay

Sure, it’s accessible to all sizes of ships with the proper permits — all the big ships sail up to the same glacier then turn around and leave, while small expedition ships do that and more such as venturing up to the Johns Hopkins Glacier, an immense growing glacier that big ship passengers will never see. Hundreds of harbor seals will be lounging on the ice flows.

Glacier Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

Glacier Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

Upper Reaches of the Amazon River

Medium-size cruise ships can make it 1,000 miles up the broad Amazon to Manaus where they have to turn around stopping at locations where hundreds go ashore to over-visited villages, while small riverboats sail the Upper Amazon and its amazing network of tributaries to some of the most remote places on earth reached by water. Here riverside villages are completely isolated from one another, except by small boat, and wildlife abounds in the water, in the sky and deep in the rainforest.

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

The Length of the Chilean Fjords

The big ships duck in and out where they can safely turnaround while small ship cruises can travel the length of Chile’s inside passage south to the tip of South America while sailing close to numerous glaciers and up narrow inlets to spot mammals and birds, and stopping at islands en route.

Laguna San Rafael, Chilean Fjords. * Photo: Ted Scull

Laguna San Rafael, Chilean Fjords. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mother Russia

Big ships dock at St. Petersburg, a wonderful city with a couple of palaces just outside, but to see Mother Russia, an inland river cruise will expose you to the vast interior countryside and allow you to step ashore to see Russian life in small towns and cities.

Cruising into the heart of Mother Russia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cruising into the heart of Mother Russia. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Interior of France

River cruises take you into the heart of France directly to Claude Monet’s Giverny Gardens, not to a coastal port with a long bus ride inland like the big ships offer. On a small ship river or canal cruise, there’s no need to endure an even longer drive from a Mediterranean port to spend a few hours at the wonder of Avignon as riverboats docs just outside the medieval walls.

Avignon, medieval France. * Photo: Ted Scull

Avignon, medieval France. * Photo: Ted Scull

Fiji’s Out Islands

When ships of all sizes cross the Pacific they may make a stop at Fiji’s major port, but only small ship cruises sail from Fiji to the many nearby out islands and drop anchor in a blue lagoon to go snorkeling, enjoy a beach barbecue, and visit a local village and its school.

Out Islands - Fiji, South Pacific. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Out Islands – Fiji, South Pacific. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

The Interior of Cambodia, Vietnam & Laos

River cruises sail into the interior of all three countries via the Mekong River and its tributaries, visiting exotic cities like Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Luang Prabang (Laos). Meanwhile, big ships can only get to the coastal cities of Vietnam, and it’s still a two- to four-hour drive each way to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Ted samples the local delicacies! * Photo: Ted Scull

Ted samples the local delicacies! * Photo: Ted Scull

Eastern Indonesia

Big ships can get you close enough to Bali to go ashore and join the masses of tourists already there, but small ship cruises explore the eastern end of the archipelago, from the Raja Ampat islands to Papua New Guinea, sailing deep into the island’s interior via the Sepik River.

Outrigger canoes, Indonesia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Outrigger canoes, Indonesia. * Photo: Ted Scull


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