A Q&A With the Founders of QuirkyCruise.com
Travel writers Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna are co-founders of QuirkyCruise.com, a new online guide to small ship cruises under 300 passengers. The site is an excellent source for research on all types of small ship cruises, from riverboats to expedition and sailing vessels that ply waterways and oceans worldwide. Ted and Heidi currently review nearly 70 small ship lines and hundreds of small ships, and feature thousands of articles, photos and reader reviews.
Q: Why did you create QuirkyCruise.com?
Heidi & Ted: Simple, we love small ship cruises. As experienced travel writers, we’ve been on hundreds and hundreds of cruise ships of all kinds and have always gravitated to the small, intimate, quirky ones. Small ship cruises are adventurous, memorable and authentic in ways big mass-market ships could never be. We’ve been friends and colleagues for many years and so partnering to create QuirkyCruise.com was a natural move for us. We’re a great team!
Q: What were your parameters when starting the site?
Ted: Because there aren’t many websites out there covering all kinds of small ship cruises, we wanted our scope to include five categories of ships under 300 passengers: riverboats, expedition ships, coastal vessels, oceangoing, and sailing ships. We’ve just started adding self-drive boats and will soon add barges and container-passenger ships that carry a dozen or less.
Q: What experience did you have with small ships before establishing the site?
Heidi: My first small ship cruises were in the 1990s in Alaska and the Caribbean, and that’s when I fell in love with the mode of travel. Since then, I have taken dozens of small ship cruises all over the world, from Europe and South America to India and Southeast Asia, where I have lived for the past 11 years.
Ted: Quite a lot as I had been on expedition cruises to Antarctica, the Arctic twice, Alaska several times, Central America on the Gulf of Mexico side, Upper Amazon and Kimberley Coast (Northern Australia). My sailing experience includes Star Clippers three times and Windstar; and I’ve done river journeys in North and South America and many rivers in Europe, Egypt, and Southeast Asia.
Q: Do you also cruise on the big ships?
Heidi: Infrequently now, but in the past, often. When I first started writing about cruises 20+ years ago, I was sent to report on the big ships, and I really enjoyed the grandeur of a well-designed theatre and old-school musicals. I loved the people watching and getting dressed for dinner. As a mother who travels with her twin sons whenever possible, when they were babies the big ships were ideal for us with their playrooms and babysitting. Today, while my now teenaged sons might prefer big ships and their basketball courts, water slides and hundreds of other kids, I drag them on the small ships now that they’re old enough to appreciate them, and they do.
Ted: I used to cover the waterfront, hence sailed on any ship if there was a story to be had from it. Now, I want to concentrate on what I love so it’s all about small ship cruising and seeing places shared with a small group of liked-minded travelers.
Q: What innovations and trends have you liked in the small-ship world?
Ted: I like seeing the continuing expansion of creative new itineraries that keep those now hooked on small ship cruising coming back again and again. On expedition ships, trends include new toys such as underwater cameras that create videos for passengers to see what’s under their ship after a day exploring ashore or in Zodiacs, and the chance to kayak in ice and even camp ashore overnight in Antarctica. On riverboats, I don’t need all the new cruise ship-like stuff like spas, pools and suite-size accommodations, though many people crave them. Rather let me slide open the floor-to-ceiling glass window and stand at the railing or pull up a chair, and have a simple lunch at an alternative dining venue outdoors rather than a multiple course one at the midday meal so as not to miss the passing river scene.
Heidi: In the small ship realm, I’d say exciting trends include more options for families — for instance, on Europe river cruises with lines like Uniworld and the boats Disney charters from AMA. Another development is there are more luxury small-ship vessels being positioned in bucket-list regions like the Galapagos, Arctic and Antarctica regions (such as the Silversea and Crystal ships), where at one time the available ships to these areas were very basic.
Q: If you had to limit yourself to one continent for the next four cruises which one would it be?
Heidi: That’s a tough one. I love Europe, but I’m still exploring greater Asia. Even after living in Singapore for more than a decade, there’s still so much more to see and do while we’re here for a few more years. For instance, I’ve cruised the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia, but not in Laos and China. I’ve been on an Irrawaddy River cruise, but would love to go further north in Myanmar on the Chindwin River. I’ve done the Brahmaputra River in India and want to go back to sail on the Ganges next time. It’s endless.
Ted: That’s easy, Europe. Because it’s so varied and provides river cruises from Portugal to Russia, Scotland to the Lower Danube. Also, coastal and island cruises amongst the British Isle, Norwegian coast and fjords, Scandinavian capitals in the Baltic, coasts of France, Spain and Portugal, and almost anywhere in the Mediterranean.