I asked Judi to talk about how she gravitated away from big mainstream cruise ships to her predilection for smaller vessels. “Somewhere along the line we discovered Pandaw Cruises. We went on a Pandaw Cruise in Myanmar. It was our first small-ship cruise—it had 16 people on it. And that’s when we absolutely fell in love with small vessels. We loved it. It sailed a short stretch of the Irrawaddy River between Mandalay and Bagan in Myanmar. We landed in Yangon, Myanmar, and then flew to where we were going to board the vessel. Our first sight of that boat, the Pandaw Kalaw—it was so simple, a two-deck river boat. And the crew, and an onboard guide who accompanied us on our adventures off the ship at each stop was so welcoming, so genuine, we knew that we were going to be looked after well. It was just wonderful how they ran everything. Two excursions a day; if you wanted to stay on the ship to relax and read you could, but if you wanted to leave you could get off the ship twice a day. The adventures that we shared were into the smallest remote villages along the Irrawaddy. It was such a memorable experience.”
So small ship cruising seemed to appeal to Judi right away. I asked her how soon after the Kalaw did she do another small vessel. “Immediately; we got off that and then we took our kids, as well as two of our friends on the exact same itinerary with Pandaw the following year. And then we went back with the kids only and we did Vietnam and Cambodia with Pandaw.” Judi’s first three small ship cruises, done in succession, were with Pandaw. A new passion was born. Judi has essentially done almost exclusively small ship cruising since, ranging from very small ships barely holding double digits of passengers, to the 100 passenger Akademik Sergey Vavilov, a former Russian scientific vessel converted to an expedition ship to Antarctica, and up to luxury ships like Crystal Serenity which holds about 1000 passengers. By the way, of Judi’s many small-ship cruising lasting memories is a less than wonderful one an otherwise wonderful cruise on the Vavilov, operated by One Ocean Expeditions. “I really enjoyed the Vavilov; the cruise was fabulous, everything was first-class; seeing Antarctica, spending time with the penguins, learning as much as we did was a tremendous opportunity. I will add probably one of the most memorable—maybe not in a good way—was crossing the Drake Passage. It was rough, it was crazy, and my husband gets seasick in a bathtub,” Judi laughs.
Yet Lawrence loves to cruise. “He loves to cruise. He knows there is a price to be paid, but he is prepared to do it. I asked him if he would be willing to go back to Antarctica and he said, ‘I’d go in a heartbeat.’ He considers crossing the Drake a rite of passage.” That actually wasn’t Judi’s first experience crossing Drake’s Passage. She had done so prior to becoming a small-ship cruising aficionado on a cruise on Celebrity Infinity. That cruise on the Infinity—wonderful as it was—as compared to Judi’s small ship experience starkly depicts the contrast between big ship versus small ship cruising. “It is very different whether you go on a small or big ship—no less beautiful, but different. Our first cruise to Antarctica was in 2013. It was a wonderful experience. Celebrity Infinity departed from Buenos Aires and took us down through Argentina, Venezuela, a stop in Ushuai, and then into Antarctica. But we were sitting on the deck on a big cruise ship. Because the Infinity was larger, we could not get off the ship and explore. We crossed the passage, we went into the Antarctic Circle, and we saw all of these other people on Zodiacs and small vessels, and then going to land and hiking. Lawrence and I looked at each other and both said, ‘We have to do that. We need to come back here and do that.’ We knew we wanted to come back and do it in a more adventurous and immersive style. So in four long years, we did.”
Read the entire chapter, Traveling Judi, Cruisers Just Like You and Me...Sort Of, Cruising Interrupted (Coming Soon)