Nicole Edenedo
Nicole Edenedo

For Variety Cruises, sustainability means more than building ecofriendly ships and making a positive impact on the waterways. It's also about making a positive impact on land.

Variety is relaunching its river cruises in West Africa later this year, and guests who take part in the inaugural sailing in December will be treated to a special event: The celebration of the opening of a new museum in Gambia.

The Greek, family-owned, small ship cruise company has teamed up with the Explorers Club to launch the museum as part of its ongoing efforts to advance educational opportunities for local children in the region. Called The Rose Museum, it is the newest addition to the Lamin Koto School that the company's philanthropic arm, Variety Cares, opened in 2011.

During the seven-day itinerary, which departs on Dec. 23, guests will celebrate the Rose Museum's launch alongside Variety Cruises CEO Filippos Venetopoulos and Richard Garriott, president of the Explorers Club.

The museum will feature unique objects donated by the club, including a flag of the Explorers Club that went to space and a piece of a comet, as well as maps, books, compasses and other donated educational materials. Constantine Venetopoulos, the company's brand manager, said the mission of the museum is to display objects from around the world to the remote community of Lamin Koto. It will be open to the public.

"We were inspired to join forces with Variety Cruises to work towards our goals to promote scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space through research and education, and our projects are geared towards achieving that mission," Garriott said.

It's a significant milestone for members of the Venetopoulos family, as the museum holds a deeper meaning for them. The Rose Museum's name honors the late Triantafyllos "Lakis" Venetopoulos, the second-generation owner to helm Variety Cruises, whose first name means "rose" in Greek.

His children, which include Filippos and Constantine Venetopoulos and the line's chief experience officer, are the next generation to lead Variety, and they aim to advance the philanthropic efforts their father began in West Africa more than a decade ago.

"This is an especially emotional and important project for all of our Variety Cruises family, as it is a project Lakis was personally involved with," said Constantine Venetopoulos. "Our continued return to the region of West Africa is not always a profitable one, as it is still an off-the-radar destination for many, but we believe in it as a truly authentic, off the beaten track destination. We deeply believe that our presence is of value to the local communities."

Off the beaten track in Western Africa

Variety Cruises is one of the few suppliers that offers river cruises in Africa outside of the Nile River in Egypt and the Chobe River in Southern Africa, which runs primarily in Botswana and is where a number of African safari river cruises take place. Variety's cruises in West Africa focus on Senegal and Gambia through two core itineraries.

The seven-night Rivers of West Africa itineraries sail either roundtrip from Dakar, Senegal, or from Banjul, Gambia. Cruises that start from Senegal begin with a yacht cruise along the West African coastline before venturing onto the Gambia River, and those that start from Banjul feature a visit to Dakar toward the end of the itinerary.

Guests on both itineraries get to see Senegal's rich biodiversity as they sail through the Sine-Saloum Delta and while on a visit to the town of Joal Fadiouth. But the bulk of the itineraries play out in Gambia, where brushes with crocodiles, hippos and primates are possible for guests as they explore the Gambia River's 700-mile corridor.

The cruises use the Harmony G, a 21-cabin, 44-guest yacht, which is small enough to sail up to a certain part of the river before guests board small, canoe-like boats, called pirogues, for daily excursions. The cruises are a chance to see a part of Africa not typically offered by river cruise companies.

"We go to destinations where no one else is, because we want to support the destination [and] we think there is a market there," Filippos Venetopoulos said late last year, referring to the company's choice to offer river cruising in West Africa and how the destination is a labor of love for Variety.

"It's a very different river cruise and an amazing product," Venetopoulos added. "You get to see wildlife, different small villages along the way. When we stop, [the kids] come and join the ship, talk to our guests; it's a very cultural, adventurous experience."

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