Cruise West's Sea of...

The newly refurbished Spirit of Yorktown, Cruise West's Sea of Cortez vessel, targets nature-lovers who want a small ship experience. There are no nightclubs, fancy restaurants or Vegas-style shows aboard the 257-foot ship; instead, the destination is the highlight. Holding just 138 passengers, the ship is able to navigate into areas that larger vessels can't. Thus we were able to explore the nooks and crannies of the Sea of Cortez and the Baja Peninsula. Highlights of the ship are the naturalist guides, guest speakers and the camaraderie among the passengers (by the end of the cruise, we had eaten with or at least conversed with just about every guest).


The ship's lounge is where beverages are served throughout the day as well as the location of a nightly social hour, when guests mingle and sample appetizers before dinner.

THE WOW FACTOR: Since this is a small ship with the emphasis on natural surroundings, the "Wow Factor" is really the scenery. At each port, the naturalist guide narrates what is happening around us (there were sea lions at Los Islotes, blue-footed boobies at Isla Partida and the pod of dolphins swimming alongside the ship while at sea). Many guests prefer to stand on the sundeck for the views, but the lounge was quite popular for older guests who did not want to be exposed to the elements (mainly wind and cool breezes). The lounge was also the setting for lectures, slide shows and our cruise's daily book club meetings.

TOP TABLE: Unlike larger ships, there was only one dining room aboard the Spirit of Yorktown and only one seating time for meals. All dining was open seating, with tables of six and eight, which gave guests the opportunity to mingle with different passengers at each meal. This is definitely a ship for people who like to socialize with others, as there are no tables for two. There is a buffet lunch and breakfast served in the lounge daily for those who prefer lighter fare, while the á la carte menu is offered in the dining room. Sample dishes included seared tuna with mango, red snapper crepes and sirloin steak with lime and cilantro.

RATING THE DIGS: We stayed in the AAA class category, below balcony. There was plenty of closet space for storage, and to allow for more floor space, the twin beds were positioned against perpendicular walls (the one con is that the beds could not be pushed together to create a double). The window was a good size, and we often used the in-cabin binoculars (each cabin has two pairs of binoculars) for wildlife viewing. For the best cabins, the balcony category offers great views, a mini fridge and queen-size beds.

Spirit of Yorktown Cabin

Cabins on the Spirit of Yorktown offer lots of closet space for storage, which allows for extra floor space and convenience for passengers

HOT SPOTS: The most-used and busiest place aboard the ship was the lounge; this is where coffee and tea were served throughout the day. It's also where people met to play cards, sit around and talk or read quietly in the corner. There was a wall of books ("the library") at one end and an area of items for sale ("the gift shop"), too. "Social hour" was held in the lounge every day before dinner; guests mingled while appetizers were served.


NOOKS AND CRANNIES: Because this is such a small ship, it's hard to find a spot to be alone. However, we found that the sundeck right before sunset was a good bet for an evening cocktail. While most people were showering before dinner, this practically deserted area was a great place to watch the sun set over the mountains and islands.

Spirit of Yorktown binocular views

The Spirit of Yorktown provides each cabin with binoculars for close-ups of breathtaking views.

EDITOR'S GLEANINGS: The Spirit of Yorktown is the perfect sized ship for those passengers who do not care for nightlife and the glitz and glamour of the bigger ships. This ship and itinerary will appeal to those passengers who truly want to indulge in nature: birding, whale-watching, hiking and exploring local plant life. Every day is casual (many people wore sneakers to dinner). The majority of the clientele were well-traveled, and for the most part pretty active (the demographic is primarily age 50 and above—and quite a few guests were in their 70s). There are no elevators on the ship, so passengers have to travel up and down several flights of stairs as well as be able to get into and out of the floatable DIBs that transfer passengers to shore.

Daily activities include nature walks, snorkeling and kayaking, so a good amount of mobility is required. Clients should know that all activities are weather-dependent including whale tours and snorkeling with the sea lions (on our trip, we were able to see the whales, but, unfortunately, were unable to swim with the sea lions due to winds and rough sea). Many passengers were repeat Cruise West clients and very few had any interest in large-ship travel. Rather, they were drawn to the small ship's exclusive and intimate experience. Even though all talks were held in the lounge, they also could be heard in the stateroom via intercom (there were no TVs). The crew and staff are American.

AGENT SPEAK: Lisa Eckhart, CTC, from AAA Travel Agency in Seattle ([email protected] or 206-633-4222) notes that the Copper Canyon extension is very popular with her clients. She thinks that the Cruise West experience "attracts retired and comfortable professionals who don't need the big ships with casinos, Broadway shows and duty-free shops. They want to see, feel and experience the destinations they visit. They want to understand and learn the history, geography and cultures of the destinations."

It's also an extremely social trip, and people make longtime friends while aboard. Stacy Weigant from Forest Travel Agency in Aventura, FL ([email protected] or 305-932-5560 ext.107), works with an upscale clientele who appreciate that the ship feels like a private yacht, intimate and casual. She recently booked a multigenerational family of 12 and feels that this itinerary lends itself for family travel (kids can snorkel and kayak while grandparents can simply relax, attend the lectures or go on the boat tours).

JUST THE FACTS: The Whales & Wildlife cruise operates late December 2008 to early March 2009. The lead-in price is $2,199 per person based on double occupancy.

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