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Northwest Passage Cruise

20/12/2019

Read Founder Aaron Russ' account of leading expeditions through the Northwest Passage in 2015

Click here to view The Small Cruise Ship Collection's cruises throughout the Northwest Passage.

By Aaron Russ

I have previously had the opportunity to explore the Canadian Arctic and Greenland extensively in the course of my time as an Expedition Leader, but I knew that this voyage would be different. Sailing from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to Nome, in Alaska, we will complete a full transit of the NorthWest Passage sailing from the Atlantic to Pacific Ocean via the Canadian Archipelago and northern coast of Alaska. This epic voyage following in the footsteps of the great Norwegian Explorer, Roald Amundsen, is a 22 day voyage that sees us traversing nearly 5000nm and a third of the globe through one of the most isolated regions on earth.

Heading through the Northwest PassageWe fly into Greenland on a specially organised charter flight from Montreal, leaving behind the late summer heat and landing just north of the Arctic Circle in Kangerlussuaq. Our ship, Le Boreal, waits at anchor in the fjord and with all aboard we depart for the 100+ nautical mile journey to the open ocean. Along the way we pass vast acreages of tundra where the occasional Musk Ox can be seen grazing in the distance. In total our group is just shy of two hundred passengers, spread across 4 spacious decks of Le Boreal. While this is a larger group by expedition standards at no time does the ship seem crowded and with a staff or 18 and crew of 145 every detail is taken care of!

Disco Bay
Our first excursion is also the only landing where the ship is able to dock. In Sisimuit, it is an easy stroll into town with the option to join a walking tour with local guides, with the sun shining and no wind it is pleasantly warm wandering to the museum or exploring the small boat harbour where there is constant activity as boats return from fishing and hunting trips. A little further up the hill the main shopping area has all the needs of the local residents covered.  We then have two days in Disco Bay and the first morning finds us navigating through the ice fields and icebergs issuing forth from Jackobshaven Isfjord enroute to Eqi Glacier. The great thing about the Eqi glacier apart from the ice filled fjord and beautiful scenery is that you get a clear view right up on to the Greenland icecap. During lunch which is a BBQ lunch on the outside decks the captain navigates Le Boreal amongst the ice giving excellent views of the imposing ice face of Eqi Glacier as it periodically calves. During the afternoon we land and explore the autumnal tundra.

A definite highlight of this and any visit to Greenland is Illullissat, on the shores of the Jackobshaven Isfjord, ice is ever present and our visit is no exception. Anchored just offshore from town there is small icebergs all around the ship and just a couple of miles to the south is a great aggregation of very large icebergs all trapped inside the fjord by the terminal moraine. Today everybody has the opportunity to join one of the converted local fishing vessels for an upclose experience of the icebergs. Ashore, just a short ride from town, there is a beautiful walk along the edge of the fjord where towering icebergs drift nearby and there is the remains of a traditional Inuit village. We spend the next couple of days exploring our way northwards through the fjords of western Greenland, there is much written about the fjords of Norway, Alaska or even New Zealand but it is hard to find many which rival the sheer scale and dramatic beauty of Greenland.

Polar bears aboundBaffin Island
After bidding farewell to Greenland we had a smooth and quick crossing to Canada where we cleared customs in Pond Inlet on the northern shore of Baffin Island and with a grandstand view of Bylot Island to the north across Pond Inlet. This was our first chance to set foot on Canadian soil and there was a noticeable change to the communities we had visited in Greenland. That evening as we all searched for the ever elusive Narwhal in Navy Board Inlet the sun dropped low to the horizon illuminating Bylot Island in the most beautiful golden light. We then spent the next two days along the northern side of Lancaster Sound, by now we are by all opinions in the NW Passage proper and venturing mile by mile deeper into the maze of islands that is the Canadian Archipelago.  In Croker Bay we land on Devon Island and are able to approach close enough to a small herd of Musk Ox to afford everybody good views. Devon Island is incidentally the largest uninhabited Island on earth and even the glimpses of its coastline that we were afforded underlined the fact that this is a large island. The morning of our second day in Lancaster Sound as we were approaching Beechy Island the first Polar Bears of the expedition were spotted with two large animals patrolling along the shoreline, bringing Le Boreal in for a close look one of the bears decided to swim out the few hundred meters to where the ship was, and before we knew it the bear was just a few metres away in the water below the bow, calmly swimming through a small flock of fulmars that were sitting on the water.

Franklin's Grave

Franklin's GraveNo voyage through the NW Passage would be complete without paying homage to Franklin and the early explorers of the north and there is nowhere better to do this than at barren Beechy Island. A stark wilderness of uplifted seashore punctuated by four lonely graves was on the day of our visit exceptionally benign, the wind was stilled, the sea calm and the temperature balmy by Arctic standards. A gentle wander takes you from the Franklin graves to the remains of Northumberland House along the coast, and on this particular day a beautiful juvenile Gyr Falcon was in residence, guarding the scene with its ever watchful gaze. The excellent weather continued through into the afternoon and our visit to Prince Leopold Island with its soaring cliffs and multitudes of Brunnich’s Guillemots in residence on the ledges above where we were cruising in the zodiacs.

Beluga whales
Continuing our path further into the Canadian islands we next arrived at Fort Ross, a small historic Hudson Bay Company trading post that guards the entrance to the narrow but navigable Bellot Strait. Separating the northern most point of the continental Americas from Somerset Island it is also something of a wildlife hotspot and our transit was no exception with a sighting of a Polar Bear female and cub resting on the shores.  But this sighting pales in comparison to our evening zodiac outing along the shore of Prince of Wales Island, here in the shallows Beluga Whales congregate to moult, rubbing off  skin on the gravels. We first spotted the Belugas as expected in the shallows but very quickly thereafter also started seeing the many Polar Bears that had gathered,  drawn by the lure of the whales. Indeed several whales had been caught in the shallows and were in various stages of being eaten by the bears, in total during the evening we saw 13 bears,  some up close while others lurked in the hills behind. The most remarkable was when we came across a bear actively hunting the whales in the shallows, leaping about amongst the whales attempting to capture a whale.

Gyr falconGenerally speaking the sea ice is heavy in the central portion of the NW Passage and it makes for difficult progress. This was not the case in late August 2015, after a spring and early summer where the ice remained present for longer than expected, in mid-August there was a rapid clearing of the ice to the extent that we were looking for ice rather than looking to avoid it. Venturing along the ice edge we were keeping a keen lookout for bears on the ice and after several distant sightings we were treated to one of the very best bear encounters possible. With Le Boreal amongst the ice floes a female and her large cub ambled across the ice towards us coming within just a few metres of the ship's side for the best views possible as the cub vocalised and the female stood on her hind legs for a better view of the curious intruders in their realm.

In the footsteps of Amundsen
Following in the footsteps of Amundsen we sailed through James Ross Strait to Gjoa Haven where the community welcomed us and where Amundsen spent two Arctic winters during the first transit of the Passage. Then it was onwards and westwards through Simpson Strait across Queen Maud and then Coronation Gulfs passing Victoria Island to our starboard.  Along the way we made daily landings with highlights including sightings of a Barren Land Grizzly, Caribou and Tundra Swans. Then our passage once again turned northwards as we passed into the Amundsen Gulf and headed for the community of Holman. Landing on the beach at Holman we were met by what seemed like the whole town that put on a great welcome including freshly caught Arctic Char and Bannock bread. Another highlight was the visit to the artist’s co-op where locally produced prints and distinctive Musk Ox horn carvings were greatly sought after!

Our exploration continued ever westwards with a landing on the seldom visited shores of Banks Island with sightings of Snowy Owls and distant views of a small pack of wolves moving across the tundra. Visiting the mainland of North America for the first time in the expedition we boarded the zodiacs to cruise the impressive smoking cliffs of Smoking Hills, fortunately with the breeze at our backs we watched as great clouds of smoke rose from the exposed rocks of the cliffs above. Quite what causes the combustion is still debated but the majority consensus seems to be that it is spontaneous combustion caused by the chemicals present in these unique deposits. Our last landing in Canada was at Herschel Island, arriving early in the morning with fog shrouding the landscape we were greeted by the local rangers and a Polar bear wandering amongst the buildings. After a short delay to the landing while the bear was encouraged the explore elsewhere we enjoyed a tour of the remaining buildings of a once bustling whaling community including the very informative museum.

Departing Canada Le Boreal sailed along the northern coast of Alaska to Barrow where we completed US immigration before sailing southwards for the Bering Strait. Our arrival in “Pacific” waters being announced by the presence of Short-tailed Shearwaters, Tufted Puffins and assorted auklets, all Pacific species of seabirds! For the first time in the whole expedition the wind increased above 10 knots but Le Boreal handled the swells as always impressively as the winds continued to increase, eventually peaking as we sailed past Little Diomede at an impressive 70 knots. The end of our voyage was Nome, Alaska where we farewelled Le Boreal and joined our charter flights to Vancouver signifying the official conclusion of the expedition of a lifetime through the NW Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. 

In the Northwest Passage

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An excellent island hopping cruise experience

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Croatia Luxury Cruise North: from Split to Split

Great holiday

We had a lovely week on the Esperanza . The guests all got in great and Ivana was a wonderful hostess.

Positives : Guests and the amazing Dalmnation coast

Negatives: Agritourism visit was nothing special and wine was borderline awful. Most guests felt this was something of a wasted evening in the middle of nowhere.

Food on the boat in particular fruit at breakfast and salads at lunch and dinner could have been more plentiful .

But all in all ... Great !

Thank you Conor I

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Stellar experience start to finish!! Thank you!

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I can't thank Small Cruise Ship Collection enough for their assistance in arranging my first Hurtigruten voyage along the coast of Norway in October, 2019. Although the ship's mechanical issues saw me returning home just a few days into the voyage, Small Cruise Ship Collection helped me quickly rebook the trip, using Hurtigruten's full refund and discount offer for my future booking. I just returned from a most amazing experience in Norway, and I thank Caroline of Small Cruise Ship Collection, in particular, for such superb assistance.

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A truly wonderful experience

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Luxury Gulet Aegean cruise

Our cruise with your company was wonderful....the boat was spotless at all times.  Some one has taking their time to ensure the boat is well maintained. The staff was incredible, thoughtful,  courteous, helpful, but above all the service was beyond expectations.

One problem, I can never cruise in a large ship again!!!! I would only be disappointed by the quality of food  and experience.

great experience..thank you very much.

Paula and Tom

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Fabulous cruise, thoroughly enjoyable experience. Captain and crew were lovely.

Small Cruise Ship Collection were most helpful throughout

 

Small quibbles:

Would have liked much more sailing instead of motoring.

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Cabins were hot at night (in October!)

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Wonders of Croatia: Dubrovnik - Split (Deluxe Superior Ships)

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Hi Susi, we travelled on Vapor on 31 Aug until the 6 Sept from Split to Dubronik. The crew were very helpful and friendly. The food was good and Stan our cruise manager was fantastic. His knowledge of the area was exceptional. We really enjoyed our cruise. The islands are amazing. I would recommend this cruise to our friends. Thanks.

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Sicily Cruise - The sights and tastes of Sicily

We had an excellent time on the cruise but felt that the courier tried to fill the days with too much and her manner and English left a lot to be admired. The ship and crew were wonderful but we did not have enough time to enjoy it all. The inter-Island transport could have been better. RR

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Southern Croatia cruise from Split

My wife and I enjoyed the Croatian Cruise on board the Meridijan 100%.   The crew could not have been better and the food was perfect.  We will go on other trips in other places.  Thank you.  Larry snd Sun S

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Southern Croatia from Split - Premium cruise

We really enjoyed the cruise, thanks!

Hazel


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Southern Croatia cruise from Split

The small size of the sailing ship and the wonderful character of the crew made this a wonderful week packed with once in a lifetime views, excursions and food. I enjoyed it very much. I hope to do it again. Linda M

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Alaska's Glacier Bay & Island Adventure (Alaskan Dream)

 

We selected this trip as we wanted a “small boat cruise” around Alaska’s Inside Passage. Not all 20 cabins were occupied and there were only 33 passengers in total – just us from UK, 7 Australians and 4 Kiwis with the rest from US (so all English-speaking). Perhaps the style of trip meant that all seemed of a similar outlook and the group got on well together.

Alaskan Dream seem to be an environmentally-aware company with a good local reputation and are very welcome in the communities they visit. The small size of the boat means that they can access areas and ports unavailable to larger ships. The crew are generally long-serving with the company, competent and approachable. This particular voyage had an on-board naturalist/guide from the start, with a second joining part way through. There is at least one “off boat” opportunity every day.

Cabins are compact but comfortable with ample storage space. We were in the lowest grade; the next one up seemed to have no more amenities, just slightly bigger (although they are on the same level as public spaces). The “shoilet” takes some practice but is actually extremely practical and functional (better than facilities in other boats of a similar size that we have experienced). Rain gear (jackets, trousers and boots) are available for use. Meals were, without exception, excellent; hot drinks and water were always available.

The itinerary is flexible so we were able to take advantage of an unexpected permit to stay in Glacier Bay for an extra day. It also meant that potential wildlife sightings could be pursued and this was done on several occasions. There is also various interactions with each local community that we visited.

We would unreservedly recommend this trip but be warned that it is not a “cruise” – evening entertainment is limited to some short wildlife talks. But if your priorities are exciting wildlife and stunning scenery with an insight into local culture, you should seriously consider this.

Anne H

 

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Luxury Croatia Cruise Split to Dubrovnik to Split

It was a fantastic holiday I was travelling alone, but it didn't feel like that once I arrived the crew were great our meals were delicious there wasn't anything you could fault. Travelling on board a ship this size you meet and make friends easier and have a great time together.also you get to see of this beautiful country while having a great time. Tina L

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Northern Croatia Cruise

Hello, I have returned from a small cruise ship holiday  in Croatia. Not the one my friend  I planned but due to cancellation we were put on another boat going to the southern islands, but still had our three days extra seeing lakes etc.

Everything went to plan hotels, boat, transport connections etc were all there for us . We also had an added extra  on a transfer by taxi from Split to Zagreb on our last we shared a taxi with 'Katarina' and her family.  What an unexpected pleasure.

We want to thank you all for a wonderful holiday even though at the beginning it seemed doomed.

We shall be back

Regards Margaret B 


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This was our second trip that we booked with The Small Cruise Ship Company. We love both the Croatia Cruise and the Turkey/Greece Cruise. I would highly recommend this company! Diane B

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Cruise from Dubrovnik to Split in Luxury

Wonderful experience

We cruised on the MS Diamond in September from Dubrovnik to Split and it was 7 days of swimming, laughter and relaxing unlike any other cruise we have taken. The cruise director Paul, Bruno and Ivan the two bartenders and waiters were wonderful, always smiling and couldn’t do enough for you. The rest of the small crew were also wonderful. Our cruise had a total of 38 passengers and everyone was friendly and we all enjoyed each other’s company. The Diamond was very comfortable with areas to just relax and the swimming everyday in small coves in the clearest water we have ever experienced and that’s says a lot as we live in Hawaii. I have thought of our cruise everyday since our return and would love to do it again Roger F

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Split to Dubrovnik in comfort

We thoroughly enjoyed the trip, all the ports and the food. The cabins were very average. Rene U

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Southern Croatia from Split - Premium cruise

Enjoyed the cruise. Food was good considering the size of the kitchen. Seating was a bit cramped.

We were "below stairs" and again the room was basic but spacious.

Having said all this the cruise was not expensive.

We thought the port fees should have been included in the price and tipping caused a lot of discussion. . Most people found it excessive especially those countries that don't tip. Liz B

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Cruise from Dubrovnik to Split in Luxury

We stayed on in Split for three nights which partly explains this belated reply. We would do it again which really says it all. In fact we are interested, not now but maybe in twelve months time, in a similar cruise if it was between Venice and Split. The northern half of the Croatian coast. We think we were lucky to have one of the best cabins (4) and we wouldn’t want any less comfort than that. 

We liked the Diamond very much.The small but hard working crew were terrific.  Our timing was good as the vast crowds around Dubrovnik and Split in July and August had eased and the weather was hot but not too hot. Most of our fellow guests were Canadian who are friendly and good mannered. We didn’t think the food was very good apart from breakfast. We longed for a salad bowl. Despite the advertisement that there was a fresh water fountain on the boat they were rather mean in handing out half litre because titles which we thought was penny pinching. 

The concept of the 499 ton boat really appeals to us. We wouldn’t take a cruise on the ordinary leviathan. We loved Croatia and think we saw the best of it. We had a splendid holiday.

Robin

Thank you for your feedback Robin. The Water cooler should have been in operation, and water is free on these cruises in Croatia from 2020 onwards. Powell Ettinger, The Small Cruise Ship Collection


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Southern Croatia cruise from Split

The cruise on Pape Prvi from Split

The cruise on Pape Prvi from Split - Dubrovnik and back was wonderful experience: family owed boat with great food, friendly hosts, clean; well informed and nice guide from Katarina tours; great choices of places to dock (and see), good balance between history, culture and nature. The sunny and warm weather was a surprise plus, also the group consisted of very pleasant people (not a single "professional" complainer). Dream vacation! Daniela P

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Cruise from Split to Dubrovnik in luxury

Yes, we did enjoy our Croatian cruise.  The boat manager did a wonderful job, despite her youth!  She often had to re-arrange our programme because of the Captain having received instructions about where we could moor and the impact of the weather.  We had one very wet and rough day (when my friend was sea-sick!) but most of the weather was fine, with a gentle breeze to avoid getting too hot.  Dubrovnik was a great disappointment for me, being over-run with tourists, even so late in the season.  I would think it would be better to have a guided walk in the afternoon, rather than the morning, when there were so many others that it was difficult to keep with your own group.  Unfortunately, the walls were beyond our ability, but we had a taxi up to the mountains where the cable-car started, stopping at various viewing points, and then back via the new bridge to our boat.  I could recommend that.  We had spare time on the last day, owing to our late flight, and the cruise manager suggested we took the boat to Lokrum, a nearby island, and this gave us great views of the walls, etc.  The island is kept for wild-life, and we had to share our sandwiches with the peacocks!  Going out we did not see anything of Split, as the programme had been changed, and the guided walk in Split happened before we arrived at 7 p.m. instead of the next morning.  

The end of the cruise was not good for us, but in no way the fault of the cruise firm.  My friend lost her handbag when we got to the airport and she thought she had left it in the taxi, but it could not be found so the official at the airport found us accommodation for the night, and next morning the handbag was found on the boat, and returned to us, and then we had to pay for another flight back to the U.K. It was all a nightmare for us, but we must say the Croatians were very helpful and took great care of us. 

Going back to the boat cruise, we would have much preferred evening meals instead of the dinner at lunch time. We only had two, one the day we arrived, and then the captain's dinner.  In the evening we did not want another dinner, and were rather at a loss to find something to do, as it was getting dark by 7.30 p.m.  There is no menu for meals, but when I saw the size of the galley, I was not surprised, and the chef did well to prepare nearly 40 meals for us, plus more for the crew.  All the crew were pleasant and helpful, especially getting us on and off the boat safely.  We thought the wine and drinks were VERY expensive, so did not drink much on the boat, and the allowance of 1/2 a litre of water per day was not very generous if it is very hot.  Then tax was added to the bill as well.  We thought they were expecting very large tips, and we had to reduce them to a more reasonable level.  We were also stung very high charges when using the ATM in Gruz port and at the airport, which I have never experienced before in other countries.  However, we still enjoyed the experience.  And Vicky was very helpful when we made the booking.

Margaret H
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Gokova Gulf Luxury Gulet Cruise

Just a quick email to say a very big thank you from Bruce & myself for the wonderful week we had on board MS Nikola. I knew it would be special, but had no idea just how special! The gulet is superb, the crew were out of this world, the weather was perfect, & the company just brilliant… there is no way we could have improved on any aspect of our trip whatsoever. I didn’t know that Bruce had mentioned it was our honeymoon; the crew went above & beyond in terms of making it memorable for us, as did the other 3 couples on the gulet! Although the week at sea fell into the middle of our honeymoon (as we were in Kos & Bodrum either side of the cruise, & both of those were special too), it was by far the highlight of it… neither of us wanted our time on board to end. Having read some of the comments in the gulet’s guest book, we could see just how special it is; and the current crew (capt Ramazan, chef Tekin & 1st mate Hassan) are deservedly well-loved by all.

I’d also like to say a really big thank you too to Small Cruise Ships for letting us join the Nikola, because of course we shouldn’t have been on it at all, having booked to join the Myra. She was alongside us in port so we had chance to see her also; another beautiful gulet indeed. But we both quickly realised that we’d been incredibly lucky to be swapped onto the Nikola… it’s a truly fantastic itinerary & there really wasn’t a minute we didn’t enjoy. (…possibly with the exception of me dropping my mobile phone – or rather the special photos on it – onto the Eastern Aegean seabed! Ramazan was amazing, and gave us some lovely photos of us he’d taken, which of course more than made up for the loss )

I also hope this is useful from a feedback point of view; do let me know if you’d like me to write something more articulately! We decided there & then in Bodrum we’d start saving on our return, because without any doubt whatsoever we wish to sail with the Nikola & crew again next year, wherever she’s going…

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Southern Croatia from Split - Premium cruise

I thoroughly enjoyed my recent Croatian cruise on board Moonlight. Everything was of a very high standard - the ship, the cabin, the crew, the destinations, the on board guide and the local guides, the meals... I can't fault anything. It was an outstanding trip and we were fortunate in having such congenial fellow passengers. Bernadine R

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Southern Croatia from Split - Premium cruise

A week in paradise on a luxury small ship. We were upgraded to a fabulous ship called Black Swan on a similar circuit from Split to Split in Croatia. The boat was amazing with everything you could wish for on board. The crew of 8 were very professional but at the same time friendly and chatty. The captain and his wife owned the boat and were also friendly with us all. The captains dinner was excellent with 2 live musicians.

We saw beautiful totally unspoilt islands,small fishing villages, ancient palaces and visited towns full of interesting history, all with a guide and "whisper" ear phones so we could all hear perfectly. We had plenty of free time in ports where we could go sightseeing, shopping or find a nice restaurant or bar. Our guide even arranged for us to do an exclusive 4 x 4 safari buggy tour in Dubrovnik that was not on this boats schedule but on our original one.

The food was really excellent, the boat kept immaculately clean at all times.

I particularly enjoyed the opportunity for swim stops or a tender ride to a deserted beach, even though it was October and late season. Something you do not get to do on a huge impersonal cruise ship!

At night in port the boats always raft up next to one another and its fun to go from boat to boat checking out what they all look like. We were not disturbed by this at all and the gaps between the various boats were not a problem to us, but could be to a disabled person.

I would recommend this type of holiday to anyone.... its so relaxing compared to a huge cruise ship and with only 36 people on board the guide makes sure from the very first evening that we all get to talk to one another and great friendships were formed. Our travelling companions nationalities were Americans, New Zealanders and Australians and we were the only 2 from Europe which we loved.

 

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Split to Dubrovnik Cruise in Comfort

The cruise from Dubrovnik to Split on Vapor was excellent in every way; the cabin was comfortable and clean. The crew were very helpful, courteous and efficient. The islands we visited were interesting and well-chosen and our tour director was really excellent; he had a delightful combination of knowledge and humor. I would happily do it all again. Susan

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The Island Of Simi & The Hisaronu Gulf

Great crew, fantastic food and the MV Myra was a very good layout. Would highly recommend. Brian D

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Croatia cruise from Split in Luxury

We had a wonderful time and loved the ship and all the stops.  Look forward to another cruise in the area......thanks so much for your help!

Our only question was in previous documentation, it was stated beer and wine were included during lunch.  However, none of our drinks were included.

Look forward to why the discrepancy.....but simply loved everything else; ship, staff, captain, and director! Donna Z


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Alaska's Inside Passage & San Juans Cruise (Wilderness Discoverer)

We booked a 2 week cruise in Alaska through the Small Cruise Ship Collection. The Small Cruise Ship Collection we’re efficient and helpful, answering any queries promptly. The cruise itself was fantastic, everything we hoped for and more. Alison M

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