Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Laurie's husband with the Sea Cloud Spirit in full sail.

Laurie’s husband with the Sea Cloud Spirit in full sail. Photo: Traveler Laurie Richter

My husband and I traveled on the Sea Cloud Spirit in mid April. Ashton Palmer organized the trip for us and we have used him before for Antarctica. In this case, as it was a sailing itinerary, Ashton’s involvement was all the communication with the Sea Cloud folks and because they are a German company, it’s not as easy as it would be with a big cruise company here. They helped us pick the right stateroom and ran interference when we had questions like what kind of outlets they had. As before, they were very responsive. Ashton also put together an itinerary for us that included all private guides at each port but we decided to go with what the boat offered as sailing on the Sea Cloud is a major investment even before you add excursions. I think he was probably right that the experience would have been better but we still had a lovely time.

Some things I would like to share about this boat because it is unknown in the North American market. The original Sea Cloud was owned by Meriwether Post as a private yacht in the 20s. It has a fascinating history and was bought by a German company who refurbished it and built two bigger (and more amenity-filled) versions. We were on the newest and largest but there were still only 77 passengers. It is a fully manual sail boat—meaning that every day, the crew climb up the lines to set the sails and do it in reverse when it’s time for them to come down. It takes about an hour each time and is an incredible spectacle and one of the main reasons you want to sail on this boat.

Our itinerary started in the Canary Islands and went up the coast of Morocco, ending in Malaga, Spain. The boat is beautiful but does not have stabilizers like some of the big cruise ships, so if you’re prone to seasickness and the weather is bad, you’ll feel it. This was our second Sea Cloud sailing (Sea Cloud 2 in the Caribbean) and what we found both times was that there were about 10-14 primarily English speaking passengers (US, Canada, England) and the remainder were all German because it’s very well known there. A few times a year, Abercrombie and Kent charters the boat and those sailings have primarily an English speaking crowd. There were some real benefits to being in the minority because lectures on board were done twice (German and English) and ours had a much smaller crowd. Also, the shore excursions were separated into two groups, one with an English speaking guide and one with a German guide. Their groups were 15-20 people, ours were 3-8.

The Sea Cloud ships are not cheap to sail on and most things other than gratuities are extra, including internet (we burned through it), drinks other than cocktail hour and meals, and all shore excursions. They had a lovely spa and with three full days at sea, we made good use of it. This is a unique experience that is not for everyone but I wouldn’t hesitate to go again and have Ashton plan it for us.

Travelers celebrated their arrival in Antarctica with champagne.

Barbara and Larry Schoenfeld celebrated their arrival in Antarctica with champagne.

Ashton Palmer was extremely helpful in finding the right fit for us for Antarctica in January 2024. We told him that we wanted a small ship with top-notch scientific experts on board. I was hyper-focused on the potential for unpleasantness crossing the Drake Passage. Comfortable cabins and good food wouldn’t hurt. And, we were not very flexible with travel dates. Ashton quickly produced a short list of recommendations, despite the availability constraints due to the surge in demand for travel to Antarctica. We sailed on the Seabourn Pursuit. It checked all our boxes, plus more. It is a luxurious new ship and is outfitted with stabilizers, which softened the rocky ride across the Drake. While in Antarctica, there were two excursions via Zodiacs daily—usually involving a hike on land or an island. They were varied and all were interesting and included walking among penguins and seals, floating among jaw-droppingly beautiful sculptural icebergs, traversing the rim of a caldera, and seeing ruins of former explorers and whalers. My favorite activity was kayaking. One more thing about Ashton: This was the second time he planned an Antarctica trip for us. Our first trip was booked but got cancelled due to COVID. He had to start all over again with totally different ship options and he did a stellar job.

Our trip, NatGeo Whales of Magdalena Bay, was wonderful. It was wonderful to get away to Mexico in February. We were on the Nat Geo Sea Bird. It’s an older small ship but I like the intimacy of it. We’ve been on it twice now, in the same cabin both times. I would not recommend it to those with mobility problems.

To see the gray whales up close was exhilarating. And the Gigante mountains were a desolate but beautiful site. We walked on sand dunes and hiked over a mountain. The Nat Geo on-the-ground guy told us all about the cactus fields and the history of Baja California Sur, all quite interesting. The Nat Geo naturalists make the trip worthwhile. They explain everything!

I can’t say enough good things about Ashton, Christine, and Keri. They booked the trip for us, answered questions about flights, gratuities, whether to exchange currency, and in general gave us the personal attention we would not have received elsewhere. Ashton and Christine suggested we Zoom to discuss which trips best suited our interests.

In December we will go on our 3rd trip with them, and if I can talk my husband into the Galapagos, we’ll work with them again.

Milinda Martin enjoys a cocktail during sunset with a view of Bolivia's Uyuni salt flats.

Milinda Martin enjoys a cocktail with a view of Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flats at sunset.

Recently, Wendy has been recommending South America and I’m so grateful I took advantage of this. Despite the warm temperatures, there were few tourists, which ensured a really authentic experience. Ashton Palmer and his team (shoutout to Ashley and Keri) helped me plan an extended trip to all my desired destinations: Torres del Paine, the Amazon Basin, Lima, Santiago, Valparaiso, the Atacama, and the Altiplano of Bolivia.

It was a long journey, but I felt so supported as a single traveler all along the way. In Patagonia, Ashton recommended Patagonia Camp, a fantastic place owned by the Matetic family, of Chilean wine fame. Outstanding guides, excellent excursions, beautiful lakeside yurts, and the most divine food/wine. The camp helped ensure I met other travelers, so meals were always full of conversations.

For the Amazon, I asked for somewhere that didn’t have a ton of tourists, which took the cruises out of Iquitos off the agenda. Instead, Ashton recommended Posada Amazonas, an indigenous cooperative that sits on the Tambopata River in Peru. Here, I was the only guest for the first two days, so fully enjoyed my hikes, boat rides, and village visits that allowed me to see how life is lived in this region. The rooms are open to the rainforest, which made for magical evenings full of sounds. And it did rain on several days, which sounded one thousand times better than any recorded soundscape!

Then I was time for a few cities — Lima, Santiago, and Valparaiso. In Lima, Ashton and Wendy arranged a WOW Moment, which was right up my street — a ceviche lesson, tasting and tour with Marisol. We went all over the city, sampling different types of ceviche and learning about this rich Peruvian tradition. In Santiago and Valparaiso, I had made my own arrangements, but because of the wildfires, ending up calling on Ashton to help secure transport back from Valparaiso to ensure I made my flight. All the buses had been cancelled! And this is where it’s really reassuring to have a local fixer!

My last stop was my favorite part, four days in San Pedro de Atacama, followed by a four-day “travesia” across the Altiplano to the Uyuni Salt Flats. Arranged by Explora, this was exceptional. My Quechuan guide and driver introduced me to so many aspects of the local culture, including participating in the carnival celebrations. We hiked up volcanoes, sat in hot spring pools, rode bikes through slot canyons, and ate all the local dishes. On our final evening in Uyuni, after indulging in a wine/tapas al fresco meal, it started to rain, which meant the salt flats became a mirror of the skies. Ashton couldn’t have planned it better.

I spent three days in La Paz on the way home and loved that too. Such fascinating geography and a lively city. Four weeks of amazing journeys in three countries. I could not have asked for more, and was so thrilled with all of Ashton’s recommendations and support.

My favorite aspects of working with one of Wendy’s experts is the ability to customize when/where I’m going, to focus on places that are not overrun with tourists, to meet the local people and see how they live, and to get outside and really feel a part of the stunning landscape. Onwards!

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