Here's a dandy little 5,218-ton vessel that looks and acts like an expedition ship as well as someone's large private yacht, painted in white with a long black stripe running the entire length. The 128-passenger Clipper Odyssey undertakes cruises to out-of-the-way places where it may dock. For more remote destinations such as the Russian Far East, the Bering Sea and Indonesia, Zodiac landing crafts, accessed from an aft marina, transport passengers ashore.
Designed by Dutch naval architects and constructed in Japan in 1989, it cruised for almost ten years in the Japanese market as the Oceanic Grace, before moving to Spice Island Cruises as the Oceanic Odyssey. The latter stint lasted but a year, and Clipper Cruise Line/INTRAV of St. Louis bought the ship in 1999, reflagged it to the Bahamas, and placed it year-round in the Pacific Ocean cruising Southeast Asia, East Asia, Australia/New Zealand, South Pacific islands and the northern Pacific regions of Russia and Alaska.
In May 2007, the Clipper Odyssey and running mate, Clipper Adventurer, were purchased by its current Danish owners and put under International Shipping Partners, a small-ship management company based in Miami. In April 2008, Zegrahm Expeditions will take it on a five-year charter, starting with springtime itineraries in Japan; Abercrombie & Kent will supply the expedition leaders and market this cruise and a number of others.
Note: Zegrahm, based in Seattle, is a top-end soft adventure and educational tour operator employing some of the best lecturers and expedition leaders in the business. Zegrahm charters ships to alumni, museum and affinity groups and sells directly to individuals. The ship will continue to operate in very good hands.
Roomier and more comfortable than many expedition cruise ships, the Clipper Odyssey is ideally suited for small-ship cruising, with a spacious main lounge that works well for enrichment lectures and for socializing in small groups. The attractive library displays a good reference collection that supports its itineraries. Two dining venues for breakfast and lunch give passengers a distinctive choice between a traditional restaurant and a more informal buffet style.
The majority of passengers are well-traveled working and retired North Americans with enough of a disposable income to opt for a relatively expensive cruise. Some love cruising and have sampled the big ships, and others would only consider a small ship such as this one. Nearly all like partaking of the friendly social life fostered among passengers, officers, staff and crew. Many staff members have served aboard the Clipper Odyssey for six years or more, and they have been invited to stay on under the new owners.
And the crew really did make the trip extra special. The captain was an Australian living in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, and had been with the ship for nine years. He proved to be a great ambassador during all the port calls and provided a friendly welcome on the bridge, as did the other officers.
Clipper Odyssey Fellow Passengers
The passenger list is composed of folks both retired and still working, who want to see the world and are willing to pay relatively high rates for a top small-ship experience. They tend to be frequent travelers and may or may not like the big ships. Most are easygoing and quickly bond. The geographical distribution included all parts of the U.S. and Canada with no one region dominating.
Clipper Odyssey Dress Code
The dress is casual at all times if desired, though there is optional dressing up for the captain's welcome and farewell parties, women more so than men. Some men don jackets and maybe ties.
Generally most passengers did not wear shorts ashore when visiting temples and shrines. In May, Japan has daytime temperatures ranging from the high 70's in the south to high 60's in the north. Rain was infrequent, and half the days had sunshine.
Clipper Odyssey Gratuity
Tips are included in the fares for all staff and the local guides ashore. Nothing extra is expected.
--by Ted Scull, contributor, and author of 100 Best Cruise Vacations, has spent five years at sea aboard almost every type of passenger carrying vessel imaginable. His newest book, Ocean Liner Twilight, personal accounts of his early sea travels, came out in October 2007.
Next: Clipper Odyssey Cabins