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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

Cruising the Amazon and West Indies from London and back! (1 Viewer)

hampers

Hampers
Dave. Many thanks for the report. I have never been a fan of cruises, either from a leisure point of view or birding. 12 hours overnight to France is my limit. Obviously as more and more people go on cruises and give positive reports you start wondering what is being missed. Personally I'll never do it and I think your report gives a very honest and balanced view.

Cheers

Phil
 

kitefarrago

Well-known member
Did the company that owns the ship ever get in touch with you again after your experience?

I don't know enough about cruising to know what the industry standard is in these situations, but one wonders what kind of internal mechanisms they have to decide when the risk they expose their passengers to is just too much.

I did enjoy your write-up as an honest account of what to expect on this kind of cruise, thanks for taking the trouble.

Andrea
 

pratincol

Well-known member
Dave. Many thanks for the report. I have never been a fan of cruises, either from a leisure point of view or birding. 12 hours overnight to France is my limit. Obviously as more and more people go on cruises and give positive reports you start wondering what is being missed. Personally I'll never do it and I think your report gives a very honest and balanced view.

Cheers

Phil

I used to feel the same until I saw a cruise advertised to Greenland via Northern Scotland,the Faroes,Iceland and Greenland.
I didn't know what to expect but it turned out to be the best holiday we ever had!
I am not kidding,not one day's land based seawatching has ever came close to the seawatching on this cruise which is why I recommend it to birdwatchers.

Every day there were close up views of Fulmar,Kittiwake,Gulls[including Glaucous and Iceland]Gannet,Skuas,Sooty Shearwater,Auks and passing migrants,not to mention the whales.

The land based birdwatching and close to the port sail ins and sail outs, in Greenland,Iceland and the Faroes wasn't half bad neither.

Just as good is the trip to Spitzbergen up the Norway coast-especially if you can get two days in Svalbard

A Canaries cruise or Iberian Peninsula via the Biscay from August to early November is brilliant :even more so if you can get close to the Portuguese coast[Portimao and Gibraltar are great for land based birdwatching].
La Coruna is a wonderful place for sea watching from the headland and as you sail out.

The Carribbean is best on a fly cruise to save you the long transatlantic crossing.

With some prior research there is enough time in each port to find some great birds.

In Dominica there is a brilliant bird habitat close to the port at the Bottanical Gardens.

You can reach Mackinnons Pools on a 10 minute taxi ride from the port of St John's, Antigua-as good a wetland site you will find anywhere in the World.It was so good I went back on board for lunch and returned again in the afternoon.

St Maartens has a great wetland area within 15 minutes of the port.

The Dominican Republic has great birds all over the place close to La Romana port

You can get to the Spice Farm area in Grenada in about 30 minutes by taxi:another good birdwatching area.

There were lots of good birds in and around Road Town,Tortolla.

You can see some great birds in most of the Carribbean harbours or as the ship sails in and out,

Top tips! Go second sitting or eat in the buffet in the evening.The ships tend to sail out just around first sitting.Sail-outs are often a good time to see birds close to the land.
Also set the alarm early.They arrive at port early on so you miss the above-mentioned birds close to land if you sleep in.
If it gets rough park yourself in the middle of the prom deck and stare out to the horizon with your bins.
This has a twofold effect:you are concentrating and will hopefully be distracted from the mal de mare.Also you will hopefully pick up some birds through your bins.

Bon voyage and happy sailing!
 

stuartvine

Well-known member
Very interesting report and glorious photography. I think you were quite right about the storm, a Force 11 is no place for a small and elderly ship, I've been caught in similar conditions in bigger vessels and it's bloody unpleasant.

It's a pity you didn't get to see any more of Grenada! Mind you, the snorkelling isn't that good in the area you were, so you didn't miss too much - honest ;-)

This cruising lark might be an option for future birding, but I think we'll have to be considerably older before we take it up - we're both with you on the "mud hut surrounded by wildlife". :)
 

Dave Williams

Well-known member
Did the company that owns the ship ever get in touch with you again after your experience?

I don't know enough about cruising to know what the industry standard is in these situations, but one wonders what kind of internal mechanisms they have to decide when the risk they expose their passengers to is just too much.

I did enjoy your write-up as an honest account of what to expect on this kind of cruise, thanks for taking the trouble.

Andrea

Hi Andrea
Cruise and Maritime certainly didn't get in touch but I guess the whole exercise for them is damage limitation, keep a low profile and hope the bad publicity goes away.There has to be an official accident enquiry which takes time and the results will be known eventually. It might recommend that there should be more time between disembarkation and the ships departure on the next cruise.It might become the new industry standard but the cruise companies will resist it with all their commercial might because a ship sitting idle for even a short time isn't making money. They will argue costs will increase, fares will go up.
Not only, in my opinion,was the cruise company's response both onboard and onshore awful but I was also amazed the ship was actually allowed to sail without a thorough check but that's down to the local authorities not the ship's owners.
This boat had been out in very rough seas on the cruise prior to ours but of course you are unaware of that when you embark. Several passengers had sustained injuries when they fell over so the Captain must of known there was a strong likelihood that this would happen again but he took the gamble. Presumably one or two bruised and cut passengers is a small price to pay compared to the financial loss of not being back in port in time. He obviously didn't expect the result to be one fatality, one critical injury and many more minor injuries. The whole situation was badly handled, passengers should have been sent to the safety of their cabins early on, by the time the storm was at it's worst it was too rough for many elderly people to even attempt to move, and the majority of the passengers were just that. Moreover, what was really bad was the lack of any kind of messages of assurance made on the address systems.When the announcement is that everyone, including the crew have to sit on the floor as you turn the boat around sideways in to the waves you know this is going to be a little bit more than a bumpy ride.
One of the things the enquiry will ask is not only should the ship have put to sea in the knowledge of the potential conditions but should the Captain have risked 1000 lives to save one by turning around and putting the boat side on to the waves in doing so?
 

Dave Williams

Well-known member
You can see some great birds in most of the Carribbean harbours or as the ship sails in and out,

Top tips! Go second sitting or eat in the buffet in the evening.The ships tend to sail out just around first sitting.Sail-outs are often a good time to see birds close to the land.
Also set the alarm early.They arrive at port early on so you miss the above-mentioned birds close to land if you sleep in.
If it gets rough park yourself in the middle of the prom deck and stare out to the horizon with your bins.
This has a twofold effect:you are concentrating and will hopefully be distracted from the mal de mare.Also you will hopefully pick up some birds through your bins.

Bon voyage and happy sailing!

I think I might have made the point that photography and bird watching from the ship are two different things. Photographic opportunities, particularly from big ships I imagine, proved on our cruise to be very limited. Distant sightings of some birds to tick off a list were more frequent but still far fewer than I thought they would be.
Things differ from one day to the next but virtually all the ports of call we made were disappointing for their lack of birds with the exception of Ponta Delgada. One of the plusses of the Marco Polo's schedule was late departures from most locations so it maximised the length of shore visit but the birds were not to be seen following you out because it was dark. I can assure you I was up early every morning when necessary to see us arrive in port or just to see what was about.
As for eating times, yes 8.15 every night. It was along day between early breakfast and dinner time !
Seasickness isn't a problem when your mind is distracted by the prospect of drowning either.
Obviously to do some research on land based locations for bird watching you need some information sources hence my report on my findings ! There wasn't much if anything to be found for many of our 19 stops. Now there is something !
Hope you found something useful.
 
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hampers

Hampers
I used to feel the same until I saw a cruise advertised to Greenland via Northern Scotland,the Faroes,Iceland and Greenland.
I didn't know what to expect but it turned out to be the best holiday we ever had!
I am not kidding,not one day's land based seawatching has ever came close to the seawatching on this cruise which is why I recommend it to birdwatchers.

Every day there were close up views of Fulmar,Kittiwake,Gulls[including Glaucous and Iceland]Gannet,Skuas,Sooty Shearwater,Auks and passing migrants,not to mention the whales.

The land based birdwatching and close to the port sail ins and sail outs, in Greenland,Iceland and the Faroes wasn't half bad neither.

Just as good is the trip to Spitzbergen up the Norway coast-especially if you can get two days in Svalbard

A Canaries cruise or Iberian Peninsula via the Biscay from August to early November is brilliant :even more so if you can get close to the Portuguese coast[Portimao and Gibraltar are great for land based birdwatching].
La Coruna is a wonderful place for sea watching from the headland and as you sail out.

The Carribbean is best on a fly cruise to save you the long transatlantic crossing.

With some prior research there is enough time in each port to find some great birds.

In Dominica there is a brilliant bird habitat close to the port at the Bottanical Gardens.

You can reach Mackinnons Pools on a 10 minute taxi ride from the port of St John's, Antigua-as good a wetland site you will find anywhere in the World.It was so good I went back on board for lunch and returned again in the afternoon.

St Maartens has a great wetland area within 15 minutes of the port.

The Dominican Republic has great birds all over the place close to La Romana port

You can get to the Spice Farm area in Grenada in about 30 minutes by taxi:another good birdwatching area.

There were lots of good birds in and around Road Town,Tortolla.

You can see some great birds in most of the Carribbean harbours or as the ship sails in and out,

Top tips! Go second sitting or eat in the buffet in the evening.The ships tend to sail out just around first sitting.Sail-outs are often a good time to see birds close to the land.
Also set the alarm early.They arrive at port early on so you miss the above-mentioned birds close to land if you sleep in.
If it gets rough park yourself in the middle of the prom deck and stare out to the horizon with your bins.
This has a twofold effect:you are concentrating and will hopefully be distracted from the mal de mare.Also you will hopefully pick up some birds through your bins.

Bon voyage and happy sailing!

Dave
Thanks for the info. The only one I would consider would be Svalbard and it would still take a lot to convince me to spend time in a ship. I just don't fancy it at all. Sadly personal circumstances have changed since Lesbos and I think my foreign trips are curtailed in the foreseeable future. She who must be taken ill not long after Lesbos. If I hadn't been here would have been curtains so not sure could leave her again.

Cheers

Phil
 

Dave Williams

Well-known member
Very interesting report and glorious photography. I think you were quite right about the storm, a Force 11 is no place for a small and elderly ship, I've been caught in similar conditions in bigger vessels and it's bloody unpleasant.

It's a pity you didn't get to see any more of Grenada! Mind you, the snorkelling isn't that good in the area you were, so you didn't miss too much - honest ;-)

This cruising lark might be an option for future birding, but I think we'll have to be considerably older before we take it up - we're both with you on the "mud hut surrounded by wildlife". :)

My understanding and generous wife Claire has endured one or two totally unsuitable locations for a night or two on some of our recent holidays. We have tried several including freezing cold tents to a hut with a walk to the loo in the middle of the night.They have all been in a location which I have chosen for my birding opportunities not for her comfort so consequently, there are times when I must allow her the choice so our next trip on a huge gigantic cruise liner will hopefully tick lots of boxes for her. It will certainly be an interesting exercise to compare with our Marco Polo experience .
 

Dave Williams

Well-known member
Dave
Thanks for the info. The only one I would consider would be Svalbard and it would still take a lot to convince me to spend time in a ship. I just don't fancy it at all. Sadly personal circumstances have changed since Lesbos and I think my foreign trips are curtailed in the foreseeable future. She who must be taken ill not long after Lesbos. If I hadn't been here would have been curtains so not sure could leave her again.

Cheers

Phil

Gosh, really sorry to hear that Phil. Hope she is fully recovered soon if not already.
Dave
 

hampers

Hampers
Thanks Dave She is ok but has a long time under medical supervision then hopefully no long term impact.

I would advise anyone with an allergy to wear a bracelet or necklace, it may save your life. Or, reduce the events that can arise from taking something you are allergic to. For the sake of a few £ its worth it.

Cheers

Phil
 

pratincol

Well-known member
In case there are any potential cruisers out there:a summary of some of the better ports of call which I can recommend.

None of the Carribbean ports we visited were disappointing for birdwatching:Antigua,Dominica,St Maarten and the Dominican Republic bordered on the outstanding.

In Dominica there is a brilliant bird habitat close to the port at the Bottanical Gardens.

You can reach Mackinnons Pools on a 10 minute taxi ride from the port of St John's, Antigua-as good a wetland site you will find anywhere in the World.It was so good I went back on board for lunch and returned again in the afternoon.

St Maartens has a great wetland area within 15 minutes of the port.

The Dominican Republic has great birds all over the place close to La Romana port

You can get to the Spice Farm area in Grenada in about 30 minutes by taxi:another good birdwatching area.

There were lots of good birds in and around Road Town,Tortolla.

You can see some great birds in most of the Carribbean harbours or as the ship sails in and out,


In Europe, Portimao in Portugal is one of the best ports of call.There is an inter-tidal river 20 minutes from the port.When the tide drops it fills up with waders,herons and egrets.The sail in and out is outstanding for Terns,Storm Petrel,Gannets and Cory Shearwaters.

The Rock of Gibralter is worth a trip when there is a passage of Birds of Prey passing over and migrants in the shrubs on the way down.Again outstanding sea watching on the way in and out due to the narrowness of the straits.Any seabirds out there are funnelled through the gap.

Madeira is worth it for the sight of Bulwers Petrels, Terns and Corys Sheawaters as you sail in and out.We went in August so the Bulwers Petrels disappear later on I believe.

La Coruna on the North west tip of Spain is great for seawatching from the headlands and full of birds like Black Redstart and Stonechat in the bushes.

Gexto for Bilbao is a good migration area for passing birds at the right time of year.

Alanya,Turkey -A very convenient headland where the ship parks up.Saw birds like Red Footed Falcon,Lesser Kestrels,Rock Thrush and Orphean Warblers here.

Haifa and Ashdod in Israel are outstanding during Spring migration.Not quite Eillat but all the Israel migrating birds are going that way.

Limmassol Cyprusl- a reed bed habitat full of birds minutes from the ship.

Any of the Iceland ports are excellent either for the sail in and out:1000s of auks and gulls,also it is easy to get to any inland or coastal sites for birds.

Thorsvan in the Faroes is a bit of a dump but great for Storm Petrels Auks and Oystercatchers coming into port or leaving.The Oystercatcher is the Faroes' harbinger of Spring

Spitszbergen is in a class of its own.
 
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Dave Williams

Well-known member
Sound advice Phil.

The one thing I didn't mention on my cruise report was what happens if you are taken ill on board.
The Marco Polo has a franchised medical centre run by a Greek company. The costs were astounding ! No wonder the cruise company will only let you board after you have provided evidence you have insurance.
Nearly everyone who sought treatment seemed to end up on a drip and returned with a huge bill no matter what the complaint. We are talking £1000+ . Some passengers seemed to wear the size of their bill as badge of honour but would come to regret it when their insurance was renewed ?
The Medical Centre also had , IMO, the possibly unhealthy practice of filling in all the paper work and submitting it to the insurance companies on behalf of the client.
In fairness once it was established there was an outbreak, consultations for Norovirus were free, although I'm not sure there is medication that would help anyway. What you do have to ask though is could the outbreak on our ship have been taken under control sooner or did some people avoid the medical centre through fear of cost ?
 

Dave Williams

Well-known member
Out of curiosity I just checked Cruise and Maritimes schedules for next Dec/Jan/ February and they certainly don't intend allowing extra time for the ship to get back just in case of repeats of stormy weather. Same as before, arrival and departures on the same day.
And they no doubt still say passenger safety is their number one priority.
 

pratincol

Well-known member
Sounds like your ship was unlucky with the Novovirus.
Been on 8 cruises and not had that misfortune.
It can be down to poor hygiene amongst Staff and passengers.
If everyone makes that extra effort with personal hygiene the dreaded novovirus can be avoided.
I have been on some ships where the staff have been meticulous in trying to avoid the bug with cleaning regimes and hand dispenser cleaners at the entrance to the restaurants and embarkation points.
 

Dave Williams

Well-known member
Sounds like your ship was unlucky with the Novovirus.
Been on 8 cruises and not had that misfortune.
It can be down to poor hygiene amongst Staff and passengers.
If everyone makes that extra effort with personal hygiene the dreaded novovirus can be avoided.
I have been on some ships where the staff have been meticulous in trying to avoid the bug with cleaning regimes and hand dispenser cleaners at the entrance to the restaurants and embarkation points.

I think it's all down to poor personal hygiene, I think I mentioned as much in my report and our ship wasn't alone by any means,we were aware through the news at the time that there was a much bigger one that had several hundred people suffering all at once. That ship returned home early such was the scale of the problem. It's also rife in hospitals and other public places in the UK
The crew of the Marco Polo worked tirelessly to try and curb the spread by constantly washing down walls, mirrors, hand rails etc. As well as at the top and bottom of the gangplank and outside the restaurant,hand cleanser was available on bars, counters, you name it.Unfortunately some passengers and crew still choose to ignore the sanitisers so much of the hard work is pointless.
It's the old adage about horses and drinking water. I just hope those who spread the virus also suffered the results ! Personally, we used the sanitiser at every opportunity to such an extent that our hands began to suffer numerous small blisters but at least we stayed free of the virus
 

dandsblair

David and Sarah
Supporter
Excellent photos as always

The final part of my blog is now available to read !
http://davewilliamsnaturephotography.blogspot.co.uk
I have been asked would I recommend a cruise as a birding option, after reading the final instalment of the blog you might ask if I would ever go on a cruise again !!!
The answer to the first part is in many ways the same as the answer to cruising in general. They are a great way of sampling taster visits to a variety of destinations all in one go and without the hassle of unpacking you get with land based touring. Maybe I chose too long a trip for my introduction to cruising, maybe the schedule was not the right one with too much time spent at sea.
From a birding prospective much will depend on where you visit and at what time of year. Sailing the Bay of Biscay during migration periods might be more rewarding than the depths of winter, however, we had been to sunnier climes and still not seen that much activity out at sea. The bigger the ship you are on the further you are from the water too and I imagine photography will certainly be more challenging too. A big ship limits the ports of destination as well, and of course whatever the ship, unless you are tendered ashore, the port of call is possibly not exactly a birding paradise.You might find yourself in a city centre !
Having a non birding partner, I do have to consider her needs too. In actual fact, cruising is certainly an attractive proposition to Claire. She enjoys getting dressed up for dinner, nice restaurants whatever. I'm happy staying in a mud hut surrounded by wildlife and dressed in shorts and t-shirt.Being more interested in capturing decent images in camera I am probably happier to stake out the same patch on a regular basis , trying to find species and their territories and watching their habits. A bird lister might be happy to see a bird, tick it off their list and move on.
In actual fact we have already booked our next cruise trip. This time to the Far East and visiting major cities in a variety of countries we have never been to before. I don't expect it will be very birding friendly and have decided to take less camera gear than I would have on other trips. This time we are avoiding more than one day spent totally at sea, and we are boarding huge vessel with far more choice and sophistication than the Marco Polo had to offer. That said, I wouldn't dismiss a return on the old boat. It has a certain charm of a previous age and it size makes for a much more intimate experience. With far fewer passengers the chance of bumping in to people on a daily basis is almost certain.
Our Amazon Cruise is something we will remember for the rest of our lives and hopefully some of the friendships we made will stay with us too.
The Marco Polo is due to sail the same trip again next January. I won't be on it, neither hopefully will some of the obnoxious management on board the vessel. Hope my report will give prospective passengers a sense of what to expect.
Dave

We didn't quite have the experience of a death but we did have a few people on board suffer injuries (broken limbs) when we were hit by a very severe southern ocaen storm on a 3 week Antarctica cruise. At times it did seem that the hurricane strength winds and huge waves were going to tear the ship apart. Pretty much everyone including the Captain was taking sea-sickness pills and Sarah along with half the passengers suffered quite badly until she used prescription patches.
It was a good few years before I got Sarah to do another cruise but a short trip to the Galapagos and then a Circum-navigation of Svalsbard where we didn't see too much bad weather and did get some great wildlife views has got her back on side but I don't think we'll ever do a big cruise ship.
 

pratincol

Well-known member
We just take the rough days as part and parcel of cruising.
One of the most memorable days was sailing out of La Coruna Northern Spain last year.
The further we sailed out the worse the weather and sea became.The birdwatching improved in proportion
Sat amid ship on the prom deck with a fellow birdwatcher we were so absorbed we stayed there till sunset.
We lost count of the Great Skuas we saw.There were also hundreds of Yellow Legged Gulls which gave way to hoards of Gannet and Kittiwake the further we sailed out.
We also saw Sooty Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Cory’s Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Arctic Skua and Storm Petrel.

What we didn't realise that half the ship had gone down with sea sickness although we thought it strange we hadn't seen anyone on deck for the last half hour!
When we went back inside it was like the Marie Celeste!-empty public rooms and corridors.
Sitting amidship,concentrating and being out in the fresh air saved us from the mal de mare.

A similar thing happened on Biscay when the storms blew up and really stirred up the birds.It was the first time I saw Sabine Gulls so close:ships are a magnet when it gets rough.

No day land based birdwatching has ever come close to the seawatching I have experienced on board.
 
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Stevie babe

Well-known member
Enjoyed reading your report Dave and fills me with a bit of trepidation as we are using the same company having capitulated and given in to my wife's desire for a cruise. We depart Tilbury in February next year and sail up the coast of Norway hopefully seeing birds and cetaceans as well as enjoying some of the scenery, culture and Northern Lights. The North sea probably not one of the best places for cruising in the winter months I'd have thought(So why did I book it?).

Other than that we've only done minicruises via Pride of Bilbao and got caught in the Bay of Biscay in a massive storm that made us realise how tiny your cruise ship can be, even if a floating city, compared to the power of the oceans.

Superb photos by the way. May they remind you of the happier memories of the cruise.
 

Dave Williams

Well-known member
Enjoyed reading your report Dave and fills me with a bit of trepidation as we are using the same company having capitulated and given in to my wife's desire for a cruise. We depart Tilbury in February next year and sail up the coast of Norway hopefully seeing birds and cetaceans as well as enjoying some of the scenery, culture and Northern Lights. The North sea probably not one of the best places for cruising in the winter months I'd have thought(So why did I book it?).

Other than that we've only done minicruises via Pride of Bilbao and got caught in the Bay of Biscay in a massive storm that made us realise how tiny your cruise ship can be, even if a floating city, compared to the power of the oceans.

Superb photos by the way. May they remind you of the happier memories of the cruise.

I'm sure you'll enjoy it Stevie, as I have mentioned, I haven't discounted going back on the same ship. There's an odd feeling that compels me to try again !
 

njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
I have not read the entire story yet, but here are a couple of things:
St. Lucia has about 4 endemic species which you could have encountered, and additionally several species that it does not share with the more southerly neighbors (though they are shared with those to the north).

A roadside hawk would have been a major rarity for Grenada. I think you had a Broad winged Hawk instead.

Bullfinches in Barbados are a different species to the ones in the rest of the Lesser Antilles.

Niels

Hope your next cruise will be more enjoyable than the last couple of days of this one
 
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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
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