Ultra-luxury line Silversea has announced they’ll be sending their second expedition ship, Silver Galapagos, in to drydock this September for a month-long enhancement program that will see the refurbishment of all suites, corridors and the Explorer Lounge onboard.

The ex-Renaissance Three seems perfectly suited to her new role as Silversea's adventurous Silver Galapagos. Photo courtesy of SIlversea

Silversea’s adventurous Silver Galapagos is headed for a refurbishment this September to more closely align her with her luxury expedition fleetmates. Photo courtesy of SIlversea

Silversea made the decision to drydock Silver Galapagos in order to better align her with their third expedition vessel, the recently-launched Silver Discoverer. As such, Silver Galapagos will feature a new elegant blue-and-beige colour scheme that was developed for the Silver Discoverer. It also helps to act as a differentiator from Silversea’s classic fleet of ultra-luxury cruise ships, many of which feature hues of red accented with Art Deco shades of green, brown and beige.

Click here to read our Live Voyage Report through Australia and Indonesia aboard Silver Discoverer!

Before entering service last fall, Silver Galapagos underwent an initial partial refurbishment program that added new in-suite marble bathrooms, a new fitness centre, outdoor Jacuzzi, and Silversea’s popular outdoor dining venue, The Grill.

Silversea's Silver Discoverer is the line's new luxury expedition ship. She's seen here off Raft Point, The Kimberley, Australia. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Silversea’s Silver Discoverer is the line’s new luxury expedition ship. She’s seen here off Raft Point, The Kimberley, Australia. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Here’s why this is good news: the Galapagos is not the easiest part of the world to operate in, due to strict environmental and local regulations. Performing a drydock, much less a substantial one like this, is also a much more involved process than your average drydock performed in, say, Italy or the Bahamas. Silversea has listened to passenger comments regarding Silver Galapagos, and is clearly keen to brand their expedition fleet consistently and to improve the onboard passenger experience.

Silver Galapagos sails both Western (pictured) and Northern Itineraries. Did you know that, due to Galapagos regulations, ships cannot call on the same port twice in 14 days, hence the two itineraries? Illustration courtesy of Silversea.

Silver Galapagos sails both Western (pictured) and Northern Itineraries. Did you know that, due to Galapagos regulations, ships cannot call on the same port twice in 14 days, hence the two itineraries? Illustration courtesy of Silversea.

Silver Galapagos sails on Saturdays on alternating Western and North Central itineraries through the Galapagos Islands. One of the most important and unique ecosystems on the planet, the Galapagos Islands are a bucket-list destination for many cruisers, and onboard Silver Galapagos, an Expedition Team certified by the Galapagos National Park Service ensures that guests get the full experience from this one-of-a-kind voyage. Doing so also ensures that Silversea’s guests respect this delicate ecosystem, and gain a better understanding and appreciation for it.

The Galapagos Islands are as diverse as they are ethereal. Photo courtesy of Silversea Cruises

The Galapagos Islands are as diverse as they are ethereal. Photo courtesy of Silversea Cruises

Full details on Silversea’s itineraries onboard Silver Galapagos can be found by visiting their website.

 

Sailing aboard the world’s highest-rated luxury cruise ship

On September 20, we'll embark Hapag-Lloyd Cruises EUROPA 2 in Istanbul for a quick jaunt through Turkey and Greece. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

On September 20, we’ll embark Hapag-Lloyd Cruises EUROPA 2 in Istanbul for a quick jaunt through Turkey and Greece. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

This September, I’ll be travelling to Istanbul, Turkey for a short stay – and the start of a very exciting Live Voyage Report.

Aside from the exotica allure of Istanbul, the primary reason for my trip is to experience Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 – the highest rated cruise ship in the world according to Douglas Ward’s well-respected Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships, 2014 Edition. The second most highly-rated ship in the world is actually EUROPA 2’s sister – EUROPA. I’ll be joining this sleek 500 passenger ship that was just launched last year for a short voyage around Turkey and Greece.

The full itinerary, both here and onboard:

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Friday, September 19, 2014Istanbul, TurkeyInternational Flight to TurkeyOvernight in Hotel
Saturday, September 20Istanbul, TurkeyEmbark EUROPA 224:00
Sunday, September 21Cruising the Dardanelles Strait
Monday, September 22Mitilini /Lesbos, Greece04:0018:00
Tuesday, September 23Volos, Greece07:0017:30
Wednesday, September 24Kusadasi, TurkeyDisembarkOnward journey home

Designed to cater to a bilingual clientele of German and English-speaking guests, EUROPA 2 is unique amongst her fleetmates in that the vast majority of her voyages are roughly a week in length, and each one is offered in both English and German. In the past, the line had offered a selection of voyages catering to English-speaking guests, but these were operated on specific dates and destinations that may not have always meshed, particularly with interested guests who hail from the United States, where vacation time is a precious commodity.

EUROPA 2's interiors are elegant and modern. Shown here is the Reception Lobby on Deck 4. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

EUROPA 2′s interiors are elegant and modern. Shown here is the Reception Lobby on Deck 4. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

If a week isn’t enough time, itineraries can be combined to create a longer voyage, and guests have the option to embark and disembark at most major ports of call – pending government approval and the approval of the line.

The changes aboard EUROPA 2 aren’t just limited to the onboard language and itineraries. Despite being the highest-rated luxury cruise ship in the world, Hapag-Lloyd wisely caters to families as well, with separate kid and teen areas and dedicated programming and activities for both.

Elegant dining in the Restaurant Tarragon. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Elegant dining in the Restaurant Tarragon. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

There’s also no official dress code onboard, though Hapag-Lloyd’s 2014 brochure does recommend a jacket during the dinner hours for gentlemen. It’s a move that the line’s bilingual clientele wants: a classy, elegant liner without the rigid formality that continues to define even mainstream cruises.

For example, you won’t find the Captain’s Dinner onboard – or a single large, cavernous dining room, for that matter. Instead, dining has been turned into one of ERUOPA 2’s strong suits, with seven different restaurants onboard. There’s no strict meal times, and each restaurant offers its own intimate design and beautiful colour palette.

The one venue I can’t wait to try is the Restaurant Tarragon – complete with dark pillars and upholstered green seating flanked by overheight windows, this French-oriented restaurant is designed to mimic a fine Parisian brasserie. Hapag-Lloyd says the cuisine here is “simple but refined”, and I don’t doubt them for a minute.

Other venues, like the clubby Herrenzimmer Bar, harken back to the 'golden age' of transatlantic travel. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Other venues, like the clubby Herrenzimmer Bar, harken back to the ‘golden age’ of transatlantic travel. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

There are also other types of cuisine onboard, from Asian fare served up in Elements to Italian dishes paired within the bright and airy confines of Serenissima. Groups of up to 12 can even enjoy a private wine tasting experience in the Grand Reserve, EUROPA 2’s onboard wine cellar.

Most of the dining venues are located on Deck 4, where the overheight windows (this deck is actually taller than most standard cruise ship decks) harken back to the vast public spaces of the great German transatlantic ocean liners like the Deutschland (1900) and Vaterland (1923).

The emphasis on space – with a modern twist – is also apparent throughout the entire ship, which includes a soaring bank of glass-walled elevators just off the atrium that leads directly up to the ship’s abundant open-deck spaces.

EUROPA 2's expansive, magrodome-covered Pool Deck. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

EUROPA 2′s expansive, magrodome-covered Pool Deck. Photo courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

How do I know so much about a ship I’ve never set foot on? Credit has to go to Hapag-Lloyd’s extensive Virtual Tour of EUROPA 2 that can be viewed on their website. EUROPA 2 even has her own pretty darn awesome theme song, which you can download right from the Hapag-Lloyd Cruises website.

Interestingly, EUROPA 2 is not ‘all-inclusive’, as such. Alcoholic beverages are not included in the cruise fare, though beer and soft drinks can be enjoyed gratis from your suite’s mini-bar. Is that a make-or-break thing? I’ll reserve my judgement until I am onboard. You could make the argument that, at just over €4,400 per person for a guaranteed suite on my particular voyage, a half-dozen Euros here and there won’t set EUROPA 2’s clientele back much.

It is worth noting that Hapag-Lloyd is introducing a new beverage credit for use while onboard EUROPA 2 and the line’s sleek expedition ship HANSEATIC. It will apply to all bookings made as of August 1, 2014 for departures on or after October 1, 2014.

On our journey, we'll visit the Greek port of Mytilene. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

On our journey, we’ll visit the Greek port of Mytilene. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

While EUROPA 2 could do circles in the Bosphorus and I’d still be quite happy, the itinerary on my portion of this short voyage is quite spectacular. After a midnight departure from Istanbul, EUROPA 2 sails for Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos.

In order to reach Mytilene, we have to first sail through the spectacular Dardanelles – a narrow stretch of water that connects the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara. It’s roughly 61 kilometres, or 38 miles, long, and Hapag-Lloyd has scheduled our departure from Istanbul such that we’ll make the passage of the Dardanelles Strait in the afternoon.

Guests can take an optional excursion to the Monasteries of Meteora, Greece. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Guests can take an optional excursion to the Monasteries of Meteora, Greece. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

In Mytilene, guests can explore the town on their own or set off on a shore excursion to the mountain village of Agiassos, or journey further after to Lesbos. Either way, I already know that I’ll be seeking out some good souvlaki and ouzo!

The next day, EUROPA 2 arrives at Volos, Greece, where we have more tough choices: do we explore Volos, hike Mount Pelion, ride a century-old narrow gauge steam Pelion Railway, or visit the fantasy-like monasteries of Meteora, which are perched precariously on the cliffside of the Greek mainland. It’s a tough call, though I doubt there will be a wrong choice.

The only place I have already been on this itinerary is Kusadasi (koo-shad­-assee), but it has been a good 14 years since my first visit as a high-school student traveling onboard a very different ship. My recollections, though, are vivid: being offered rose Turkish delight as we stepped off our ship, drinking apple tea in a local carpet factory, and of course, visiting the ancient ruins at Ephesus.

Our journey comes to an end in Kusadasi, Turkey - home to the nearby ruins of Ephesus. The ancient Library of Celsus is pictured here. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Our journey comes to an end in Kusadasi, Turkey – home to the nearby ruins of Ephesus. The ancient Library of Celsus is pictured here. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

My journey comes to an end in Kusadasi, but I am looking forward to experiencing all that EUROPA 2 and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises have to offer!

Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises EUROPA 2 kicks off on Friday, September 19 from Istanbul! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

Two ships, five countries, and one very festive Live Voyage Report

The Christmas Market in front of Vienna's Rathaus is the largest of the 27 markets within the city limits. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The Christmas Market in front of Vienna’s Rathaus is the largest of the 27 markets within the city limits. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Three years ago at this time, I had never taken a river cruise. Today, I am a river cruise fanatic – particularly when it comes to sailing through Europe’s Christmas Markets. As fantastic as the warm summer months are for enjoying meals in outdoor cafes and cycling along Europe’s many pathways, there’s nothing like the storybook winter wonderland on showcase during the months of November and December.

For a look at our Rhine Christmas Markets Voyage aboard Viking Baldur, Click Here!

Viking Odin arrives in Hoorn. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

We’ll be sailing aboard two Viking Longships: Viking Forseti in France, and Viking Baldur on the Danube. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Beginning November 22, 2014, I’m doing double-duty with Viking River Cruises as I travel first to Bordeaux, France to experience their brand-new Chateaux, Rivers and Wine itinerary before carrying on to Budapest, Hungary for a weeklong Christmas Markets sailing on Viking’s Danube Waltz cruise to Passau, Germany.

We're headed back to Bordeaux in November to report live from the full Chateaux, Rivers and Wine itinerary with Viking River Cruises! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

We’re headed back to Bordeaux in November to report live from the full Chateaux, Rivers and Wine itinerary with Viking River Cruises! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I had a tantalising glimpse of Viking’s new Chateaux, Rivers and Wine itinerary earlier this year during the Viking Longship Christening Ceremonies. It’s a brand-new run for them, sailing aboard Viking Forseti roundtrip from Bordeaux.

Bordeaux alone would be worth going back for. Locals told us that prior to 2000, Bordeaux had fallen into a state of disrepair and neglect, which is hard to imagine when presented with the immensely-romantic city it has developed into today. It’s as clean and modern as Nice, but as statuesque as Paris.

The House of CAMUS is situated in the picturesque countryside, and is worth visiting for the history and scenery alone. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The House of CAMUS is situated in the picturesque countryside, and is worth visiting for the history and scenery alone. Viking offers a visit here as an optional tour on their Chateaux, Rivers and Wine itinerary. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The real pull of this itinerary, though, can be found in the French love of fine wine, great food and exceptional cognac. Over the course of seven days, guests have the option to sample all three in abundance, as Viking Forseti sails the Dordogne, Garonne and Gironde rivers to Saint-Emilion before returning to Bordeaux.

The full itinerary, both here and onboard:

DAYPORTACTIVITIES
November 22, 2014Bordeaux, FranceArrival; free time.
November 23Gironde River / Pauillac, FranceScenic Cruising / Medoc and Margaux wine country visit; wine tasting & evening at leisure
November 24Blaye, FranceTour of Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage site; afternoon free time or optional excursion to Cognac
November 25Libourne, FranceTour of Saint-Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage Site & Pomerol wine region; afternoon at leisure or optional excursion to Bergerac
November 26Garonne River / Cadillac, FranceScenic Cruising / Excursion to Sauternes wine region & wine tasting
November 27Cadillac, France / Bordeaux, FranceMorning city tour / evening at leisure in Bordeaux
November 28Bordeaux, FranceTour of city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site; afternoon at leisure
November 29, 2014Bordeaux, FranceDisembark Viking Forseti; flight to Budapest, Hungary for the start of our next Live Voyage Report!

My personal hope? Bordeaux’s Christmas Market will be up and running by the time Viking Forseti pulls into port near the end of the voyage. What could be better than spiced wine from the region’s legendary vineyards?

Welcome Aboard! Viking Freya lying in wait at her Budapest dock on a grey December afternoon. Notice the green illumination on the Chain Bridge in the background: for the first few moments when the lights are switched on, the structure temporarily glows green. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Welcome Aboard! Viking Freya lying in wait at her Budapest dock on a grey December afternoon. Notice the green illumination on the Chain Bridge in the background: for the first few moments when the lights are switched on, the structure temporarily glows green. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Since I’m already in Europe – and because it seems a shame to go all the way over so close to my favorite time of year only to return home – I’ll be up early at the end of my cruise to fly from Bordeaux to Budapest to embark Viking Baldurfor a voyage along the Christmas Markets of the Danube!

Beginning November 30, I’ll be experiencing Viking’s Danube Waltz itinerary for the first time and despite the number of times I have done the Danube, I have never done this particular voyage before. Some notable firsts for me will be a tour of Salzburg, Austria – which promises to be stunning, given the elaborate Christmas Markets that pop up there – and the town of Krems, Austria, which is actually Austria’s fifth-largest city. Situated in the Wachau Valley just 70 kilometres west of Vienna, it is noted for its Steiner Tor, a medieval city gate dating back to the 15th Century.

Christmas decorations line all of Budapest's street lamps. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Christmas decorations line all of Budapest’s street lamps. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

This voyage is also noteworthy for its unique call on Bratislava, Slovakia, one of my favorite ports of call and one that I have never visited during the winter months. It’s also noteworthy for terminating in Passau, Germany instead of Nuremberg. Following the conclusion of the cruise, most guests – including myself – will depart from Munich’s Franz Josef Strauss Airport.

The full itinerary, both here and onboard:

DAYPORTACTIVITIES
November 29, 2014Budapest, HungaryFlight from Bordeaux, France to Budapest, Hungary. Overnight in Budapest
November 30Budapest, HungaryEmbark Viking Baldur; free time to visit the Christmas Market. Traditional Hungarian dinner onboard.
December 1, 2014Budapest, HungaryCity tour of Buda and Pest, including Castle District - a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
December 2Bratislava, SlovakiaCity tour through Slovakia's capital
December 3Vienna, AustriaRingstrasse tour or free time; optional excursion to the Christmas Market at Schonbrunn Palace; optional evening concert.
December 4Durnstein & Melk, AustriaFree time or optional walking tour in Durnstein; tour of Melk Abbey.
December 5Linz, AustriaFull day excursion to Salzburg, Austria; free time. Return to ship late at night.
December 6Passau, GermanyWalking tour & free time
December 7, 2014Passau, GermanyDisembark Viking Baldur; transfer to Munich, Germany for onward journey home.

To ensure there are no issues with flights between France and Hungary, we’ll be spending an extra night in Budapest prior to embarking Viking Baldur. More details on that to follow!

Our 15-day Live Voyage Report will take us through 12 cities, five different countries, seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and two separate Viking Longships.

November never looked so good!

The attractive Viking Embla followed in our wake after our departure from Visegrad. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Viking Embla sailing the Danube in December of 2012. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report coverage will begin from Viking Forseti in Bordeaux, France, on November 22, 2014 and continue until November 29, 2014. Live Coverage will begin from Budapest, Hungary and Viking Baldur on November 30, 2014 and will run until Sunday, December 7.

 

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