Travel Dynamics International sidelined Yorktown in March 2014 due to "cash issues." In July of the same year, the ship was seized by a German bank claiming they were owed money for it. The bank is currently trying to sell the ship to a new owner.When Cruise West went bankrupt in 2010, the nine ships in its fleet, each able to carry between 72 and 138 passengers, were snatched up by other small lines. Yorktown, bought by Travel Dynamics International (TDI) in 2011 and launched for the 2012 season with U.S. and Central American itineraries, comes from this lineage. It entered service as Yorktown Clipper (under Clipper Cruise Lines) in 1988 and became Cruise West's Spirit of Yorktown in 2006.
Few people end up on Yorktown by booking directly through TDI. Instead, the ship caters almost exclusively to groups booked through educational tour companies like Smithsonian Expedition Journeys or the American Museum of Natural History, consolidated operators like Adventure Life or college alumni networks -- with multiple groups onboard the same sailing. As a result, there's not much TDI "branding" on the ship; people wear nametags with their affiliate tour, and representatives from those groups have a presence on the voyages.
While this could be jarring -- on our Central America cruise, it seemed as if each tour operator had given its guests different information about the activities involved -- the various loyalties didn't cause as much division as you might expect. Since 1959, TDI has carved out a niche with themed itineraries that are heavy on enrichment, guided tours and lectures, and this overriding interest in education united all passengers, regardless of how they booked. Our cruise director, John Frick, has a master's degree in Science Education, and three naturalists and a visiting scientist and archaeologist filled in the gaps.
And Yorktown is well suited for this type of educational travel. While it will never be described as a luxury vessel, the service and enrichment make it a step up from the sparsest expedition ships, and that's fine with most of its passengers. (Nearly everyone we talked to said they wouldn't be caught dead on a larger cruise.) The places where the ship fell flat -- the quality of the food, for example, and the lack of cabin amenities -- seemed to be outsourced to a management company, V Ships. A generator had failed before our trip, which led to some cabins lacking air-conditioning; our tour operator Adventure Life warned us well in advance (not every operator did so), and TDI provided fans for the people who were the most affected.
Overall, your enjoyment of Yorktown will depend on what your priorities are. If you want luxury digs, free time and a feeling of autonomy, this is not the outfit for you. But if you're seeking an enrichment-oriented voyage on topics that go beyond the basics -- often into the esoteric -- and don't mind the tour group mentality, your time on Yorktown will be a true learning experience.