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Aaron Russ, one of the founders of The Small Cruise Ship Collection, writes about leading an expedition cruise to Spitsbergen

By Aaron Russ - Read more about our Spitsbergen Cruises

"Le Boreal suite - Every suite is luxuriously appointed and has an outside balcony."Last summer I joined the Le Boreal as Expedition Leader for a voyage of exploration around the remote shores of Svalbard, or Spitsbergen as it is known to many. In terms of an Arctic destination Svalbard as some great advantages; firstly the wildlife is not hunted so the diversity and abundance is amongst the greatest that

you will find in the Arctic; secondly its unique geographic position with a warm current bathing the western coast while the eastern shores are chilled by ice from the north means that the diversity of habitats in a relatively small area is large; thirdly Spitsbergen is reasonably accessible, connected by daily flights from Oslo, so you can very quickly find yourself amidst one of the great wildernesses left on earth!

So it was on a calm but overcast morning in August that we were sailing along Isfjord headed for our first landing of the expedition at Alkefellet. This landing is a great introduction to the Arctic, set below a dramatic mountain cliff that dominates the scene and is a nesting site for Kittiwakes and Guillemots. On the slopes below Reindeer are usually found grazing, and we spotted plenty this morning,  calmly wandering past us just a few metres away! Up on the rock slope at the base of the mountain a family of foxes occasionally appeared with their young cubs being taught to hunt, providing endless photographic opportunities. Later during our time ashore, in fact as the first zodiacs started returning to the ship, a group of nearly 100 Beluga whales swam along the coastline, passing between the ship and shore, just a few metres away from where we stood, enthralled as we watched their white backs regularly break the surface.

Later that evening, after Le Boreal had repositioned to the coast of Prins Karls Foreland, we headed ashore once again for an after dinner landing, a time with dramatic lighting with 24 hours of daylight, evening is a beautiful time of the day with the sun low on the horizon. At the very end of a long low gravel spit a group of approximately 50 Walrus were lying and lounging about, occasionally moving into a more comfortable position with their large tusks seemingly a constant source of discomfort.  A group of five animals gathered on the water's edge and, sitting upright, provided ideal photographic opportunities as they posed against a backdrop of mountains and glaciers behind.

The most northerly community on earth
Our next day was more focussed on the history and scenery. During the morning we visited Ny Alesund, the northernmost community on earth and a once bustling mining town that is now a thriving scientific research community. It was from here that Amundsen and Nobile launched their airship attempts to reach the North Pole and the airship mast remains to this day. The afternoon landing was at the beautifully scenic 14 July Glacier, landing well away from the glacier front there was the opportunity for those so inclined to walk up to and even onto the edge of the glacier which permitted commanding views across the ice filled bay and crevassed glacier itself.

For the next couple of days the plans were purposefully left a little more flexible and, unusually for August, there was still ice present across the northern coast of Svalbard. We were hopeful that it would be possible to find a passage through the ice to the east but in the meantime we had some time for exploration. Firstly we headed north, deeper into the ice, in search of polar bears. Polar bears are most at home on the ice, only coming onto land during the summer when the ice has all gone. We were hopeful of finding one or more bears out on the ice using the Le Boreal as our viewing platform. The frustrating thing about ice is that often where water and ice meet there is fog and this day was no exception, we did however continue our search with many eyes straining through the fog in the hope of spotting an elusive bear. It took more than 3 hours but finally we were rewarded with a bear climbing out of the water onto a nearby ice floe. The captain was then able to manoeuvre the  ship to a position where its bow was only 50 metres away from the bear as it proceeded to investigate us whilst we were all busy capturing its every move on camera. After an hour and countless photos we left the bear to continue living and hunting in the ice and we sailed south, because at this point south is really the only option!

Polar bears
Reports of bears on the Andoyane Islands saw us out in the Zodiacs early the next morning, these low lying islands are an important breeding location for Arctic Terns and Eider Ducks and this often attracts polar bears, but on this occasion the carcass of a White-beaked dolphin that had washed ashore had attracted a female bear and her adult cub that were gorging on the remains. With the Zodiacs approaching slowly and quietly we eventually found ourselves close enough to hear the crunching of bone as we floated just a few metres offshore from the feeding bears.

Blue whales & vast seabird colonies
By this stage the ice that had been inhibiting our progress eastwards had cleared sufficiently for Le Boreal to sail towards Hinlopen Strait. Approaching the strait shortly after 5am there was great excitement on the bridge when we spotted a blue whale female and calf just off the portside of the ship. An early morning wakeup call and a lot of bleary eyed people  were rewarded with a rare sighting of the greatest of the whales. By the time breakfast was completed Le Boreal was in position to launch the Zodiacs at Alkehornet, location of a vast Brunnich's Guillemot colony, and in my opinion one of the very best seabird colonies for visiting and appreciating in all the Arctic. With more than sixty thousand pairs of guillemots breeding here and cliffs that drop straight into the water the Zodiacs afford excellent views of all the action in the colony.  Adults and chicks huddle on tiny ledges just centimetres from falling - as precarious as it might seem this provides safety from foxes and bears which will happily feed on any accessible guillemots they might find.

With the ice clear to the south of Hinlopen Strait the decision was made to continue southwards and complete a circumnavigation of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard Archipelago. This allowed us the luxury of spending a full day exploring Edgeoya and its remote High Arctic shores. This eastern coastline receives the full force of the Arctic pack ice pushing against its shore, so not only is it significantly more difficult to access than the west coast it also has a more barren and inhospitable appearance which is characteristic of a High Arctic landscape, similar to that which you might find in an equivalent latitude elsewhere in the Arctic.

The final day of our expedition was spent amongst the mountains in Hornsund at Spitsbergen's southern extension. Here the peaks rise sharply to jagged pinnacles from the deep waters of the fjord. We took the opportunity to enjoy one final walk ashore with the wild flowers before Zodiac cruising along the face of an impressive but un-named glacier which treated us by regularly calving large pieces of beautiful blue ice into the fjord.

The next morning Le Boreal returned to the port town Longyearbyen, also a former mining town, but now the major service centre of Svalbard, and it is here that we connect with our flights returning us home again.

Le Boreal
A superb mega-yacht with 132 cabins, she is the fruit of the expertise of the Italian Fincantieri shipyard and French sophistication, as interpreted by designer Jean-Philippe Nuel. Le Boreal creates a unique atmosphere, a subtle blend of luxury, intimacy and well-being. Built in 2011, she carries a maximum of 264 passengers in luxury suites that all have outside balconies.

8 day Spitsbergen cruise on board Le Boreal
Superior Staterooms from £3185 per person for an 8 day cruise of Spitsbergen - See full details of the Spitsbergen Cruise

Read more about cruising Spitsbergen

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Split to Dubrovnik in comfort

The cruise from Dubrovnik to Split on the boat 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. Sue Z

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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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Gokova Gulf Luxury Gulet Turkey 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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Luxury Gulet Aegean cruise

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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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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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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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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Classic Norwegian Fjords (Roundtrip)

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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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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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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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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Luxury Gulet Aegean cruise

Stellar experience start to finish!! Thank you!

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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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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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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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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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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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Dalmatian Paradise: Split - Split (Deluxe Superior Ships)

A truly wonderful experience

We took a 7 night round trip cruise from Split on the Avangarde. It was an absolute delight. We were thoroughly looked after from the moment we arrived in the boat to the final transfer to our hotel at the end. The crew and tour manager were extremely good at what they do and showed great humor. The food was outstanding and cabins much for luxurious than I could have imagined for a small boat. There was a great balance between free time and organised excursions. I cannot recommend this cruise highly enough. Katherine A

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

The Ave Maria was a pretty boat.  Three separate outdoor conversation areas were nice to relax in.  The cabins were nice and roomy. The cruise director Stan was very friendly and informative throughout the day and on the excursions on shore. 

The server and bartender were nice, but not the most friendly.  I am sure they get tired of new people each week. Food was good.  Just one comment - more fresh vegetables with meals would be great. 

Overall, the week was very enjoyable. Linda M

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Croatian Islands Luxury cruise

Dear Caroline,

Thank you so much for organising our cruise on MV Katarina.

The ship is wonderful along with Ivan the Captain the crew and Tour manager Stan.

Itinerary was perfect.

We could not have wished for a better holiday.

Five Stars *****

Best regards,

Simon 

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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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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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Luxury Turkey gulet cruise to 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 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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Croatia Island Hopping Cruise from Dubrovnik

An excellent island hopping cruise experience

An excellent way to experience the interesting islands of Croatia. Travelling with 38 like-minded people made the cruise a wonderful experience. The crew were very professional and extremely hardworking. The breakfast and lunch offerings were more than ample. Having the opportunity to eat dinner on the islands at the restaurants provided us with time to mingle with the locals, walk around the amazing towns and provide incomes locally. Jen A

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Split to Dubrovnik Cruise in Comfort

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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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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Luxury Gulet Aegean cruise

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.

Would have preferred an extra day/night in Greece instead of early return to Turkey.

Cabins were hot at night (in October!)

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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 Glacier Bay & Island Adventure aboard 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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