Small-ship cruising brings its special charms

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Phil Reimer

The Spirit of Oceanus departs on a 335-day cruise in March. You can take the full trip if you have $250,000 to spare, or you can purchase one of the 24 segments.

If you counted the passengers on all 10 ships in the Cruise West fleet then doubled that number, you still wouldn’t reach the entire 2,100-passenger capacity of Holland America’s Eurodam.

That observation alone will tell you that you if you travel with Cruise West you won’t have to worry about having to save a lounger by the pool, find a good seat in the theatre or follow five cruise buses all going on the same tour.

That is what small ship cruising is all about. It is an intimate experience and Cruise West would like to keep it that way.

The largest ship in their fleet is the European river cruiser Amadeus Diamond. It carries 140 passengers. The Spirit of Alaska and the Spirit of Columbia are the smallest with only 78 passengers each.

Cruise West was founded by Chuck West, an Alaskan original who started in the north with West Tours. He later sold that company to Holland America and went on to create Cruise West. Chuck’s son Dick West now serves as chairman and managing director of the cruise line. He operates it from Seattle with Dietmar Wertanzl, the president and CEO who arrived at the company via Celebrity and Crystal cruise lines.

Being a small ship cruise line does not mean Cruise West lacks destinations to offer its customers. Next year, they will cruise in Antarctica, the Galapagos, the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, British Columbia, Alaska, the Panama Canal, Costa Rica and other places. For the first time, they will be offering a round-the-world cruise.

Their flagship, the 120-passenger Spirit of Oceanus will leave on a 335-day cruise from Singapore next March following the routes of great explorers like Magellan, Marco Polo, and Cook. You can book the entire journey for more than $250,000 or purchase any one of the 24 cruise segments.

Linda Garrison of website advises that if you are going to cruise with this line, you better get along well with other people.

“Everything is in front of you, and if someone spots a whale on one side, a quick shout and everyone is immediately in the picture. It’s like a soft adventure every day what with the experts and naturalists onboard making it authentic and personal,” she said.

Cruise West keeps it simple, according to CEO Wertanzl. “We have one [meal] seating, at 7:30 p.m. each evening, and then most head to the lounge, to talk, listen to experts on the region and just generally mingle,” he said.

“We have a lot of repeat business so new destinations are important to us,” added Wertanzl. “We also want to expand our customer base which leans to Boomer plus.”

So if he could design a new Cruise West small ship what could we expect?

“I would design one that would carry no more than 150 passengers,” said Wertanzl. “I would make the cabins bigger, more balconies, more deck space, library, amenities such as a small gym or spa, a promenade deck and more space per person.”

Cruise West is considering the U.K., Australia and Asia as future destinations. For a list of all their cruises and more information, check out

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