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Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Antarctica on Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

By Judi Cohen.

You’ve probably seen a ton of documentaries about Antarctica on the Discovery Channel and loads of National Geographic photos of penguins, vast untouched vistas, huge icebergs, and rugged early explorers, but how often have you actually thought about going to the great white continent?

After all, it’s far from, well…anything!  As out of reach as it may seem, visiting Antarctica is not just doable, but it’s the adventure of a lifetime. Plus, you’ll get a much-needed “digital detox” to re-connect with nature and yourself.

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Zodiac through an iceberg WOW! * Photo: Judi Cohen

Aboard One Ocean Expeditions’ Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Our small expedition ship, One Ocean Expeditions’ Russian research vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov, departed from Ushuaia, Argentina, on a 10-night cruise last winter.  We were joined by 84 passengers from all corners of the world. A lucky group of 20 Grade 10 students from Brisbane, Australia added a youthful spirit on the ship, and brought down the average age on our sailing to about 50. Our oldest passenger, a former submarine engineer, was 85 years young. The ship has a capacity of just 92 passengers, which is ideal, given that, in Antarctica only 100 passengers from the same ship can make a shore landing at the same time. We were all able to participate in excursions without taking turns.

Most passengers chose to see Antarctica on Akademik Sergey Vavilov because of the cache of the vessel and the caliber of the experts on board; the learning component was a huge motivator for most of us.

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Akademik Sergey Vavilov. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Built in 1988 in Finland as a research survey vessel for the Russian Academy of Science, the Russian-flagged ship was later converted into a polar expedition vessel. The Vavilov is certainly not a “luxury ship,” but our Twin Private Cabin with lower berths was very comfortable. The cabin — with it’s own private toilet and shower — was kept impeccably clean, with fresh fluffy towels and bathrobes.

Other cabins had shared washrooms with either double or triple accommodations. Solo passengers were matched when possible with others in a shared cabin of their choice based on budget; some sharing double and trip cabins on our trip. A friend proudly invited me in to see her Shackleton Suite, which was very spacious with two rooms and a bathtub! There are six suites available on two decks.

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilovl

A Twin Private cabin. * Photo: One Ocean Expeditions.

Daily Routine

Most mornings went something like this: smoothies in the ship’s lounge with panoramic views, a buffet breakfast in the dining room with a daily briefing, morning excursion, lunch, afternoon excursion, technical briefings by one of our experts, happy hour in the lounge, dinner, and finally a nightly fireside chat with one of our experts. We looked forward to the briefings that focused on Antarctic history, excursion overviews and instructions, and anticipated sightings of species and terrain.

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Dining Room during a pre-dinner presentation. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

The ship’s dining room prettied up for dinner. * Photo: One Ocean Expeditions.

There was ample time to enjoy all of the ships’ facilities, like the library, flush with books on Antarctica and the Arctic, and the multi-media room with computers to edit photos and videos. There was a small fitness room, and a relaxing wellness centre with sauna, salt-water plunge pool and outdoor hot tub, along with a massage therapist to ease any post-hike sore muscles…particularly for those of us who are not natural athletes.  

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

The onboard gym. * Photo: One Ocean Expeditions

The First Few Days

Our 10-night itinerary involved sailing from Ushuaia across the Drake Passage, with a return flight from King George Island to Punta Arenas, Chile. By flying back, we were able to enjoy two additional days in Antarctica. The itineraries offered by One Ocean Expeditions vary in trip length and sail/fly options. Our itinerary was designed for everyone to sail one way and fly back the other.

The trip started as we set out across the infamously choppy Drake Passage, between the tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula. I came prepared with nausea patches, pills and wristbands of every shape and size…but when the sun finally peeked out after two days of huge swells, grey skies and high winds, we all agreed that the “Drake Shake” was a rite of passage for visiting Antarctica. (Not all crossings are quite so rough — on a previous crossing, I experienced a “Drake Lake” with waters smooth as glass.)

As we crossed the Drake, escorted by a plethora of seabirds, we received our mandatory IAATO briefing (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators). We learned about the protection of wildlife and nature, scientific research activities, and about keeping Antarctica pristine. Next, we received instructions on boarding and disembarking from the zodiacs, the correct way to “lock arms” with the sailors who would be assisting us, and the need to remain seated and holding on to the ropes in the zodiac at all times. Finally, we had fittings for our parkas, snow pants and waterproof boots, and we were shown how to use our life jackets. Those who wanted to Kayak had a fitting for their dry-suits. These tight-fitting GORE-TEX “onesies” kept the kayakers dry from head to toe.

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Judi and Lawrence in a Zodiac with all gear, lifejackets and dry sack.

The first voice we heard every day was that of Boris Wise, our expedition leader, a naturalist, wilderness guide and photographer, who has been guiding voyages in the Arctic and Antarctic since 2010. During our meals he updated us on the weather, our route changes and planned excursions. We loved hearing his cheerful voice and seeing his confident smile, even when the news was not so good regarding pending storms and itinerary changes.

Day Four, We Reach the Great White Continent

By the fourth day, the Drake’s fury was behind us and we arrived. Nothing can prepare you for your first sighting of the great white continent. Dozens of us stood on the deck, completely silent as we approached and took in the scale of immense glaciers calving into the sea, massive icebergs, and a palette of vivid colors, from the deep blues to the rich aquamarines of the ice and water, along with a soft pink sky.

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

“Iceberg porn!” * Photo: Judi Cohen

That morning, we took our first zodiac excursion to Fournier Bay where we saw glaciers and odd-shaped ice formations. In the afternoon, we had a hiking excursion to Danco Island and enjoyed the splendor of the rugged land and the snow and ice covered mountains. Most passengers did both excursions either by kayak or zodiac. Some passengers stayed on board for one or both excursions.  At least one passenger on my trip did not do any excursions due to physical limitations.

That night, about 40 passengers took zodiacs to Leith Cove for an outdoor sleep-over on the Antarctic Peninsula. Considered a highlight of the expedition, the opportunity to sleep out was offered at no extra charge and all campers were provided with state-of-the-art insulated and waterproof sleeping bags. They dug what they called “graves” in the snow and put their sleeping bags in the snowy holes.

(I, on the other hand, was happy to wave goodbye to the campers and tucked myself into my comfortable bed for a good night’s sleep aboard the ship!)

The following morning, some tired-looking campers told us about cold toes, how hard it was to fall asleep without darkness under a dusty pink sky, and how the condensation from their breath in their sleeping bags created cold dampness. Despite these challenges, most said that it was a worthwhile, memorable, and once-in-a-lifetime experience. When I return to Antarctica, I will definitely give it a try!!

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

BBQ Dinner on deck, what a backdrop! * Photo: Judi Cohen

The Next Six Days

This is not a trip where you’re stuck aboard the ship. We had the opportunity to kayak, take zodiac excursions through ice fields and make landings to hike, walk, sketch, learn about the Antarctic history, or just sit along the shore and observe the wildlife, glaciers and icebergs.

“Going with the flow” is definitely a defining theme on an Antarctic cruise. Despite our planned itinerary, the winds, snow, and ice caused continual route adjustments. We ended up having to cross the Brandsfield Strait twice (both crossings were unplanned in the original itinerary). I did not realize that the changes were made since I was sleeping off my seasickness. We maintained our position in Maxwell Bay for two additional nights (another unexpected change) at the end of the trip until it was safe to disembark and board zodiacs to take us to Marsh Airstrip at King George Island. (Our trip ended up being 12 nights aboard the Vavilov instead of the planned 10 nights. All of our flights and hotel reservations needed to be changed accordingly. The Antarctica itinerary options aboard the Vavilov range from 10 nights to 19 nights on the ship, plus one or more included hotel nights.)

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Map of the route. * Photo: Judi Cohen


Highlights from our Zodiac Excursions and Landings

Zodiac Tour of Cierva Cove

I felt all the thumps and bumps as we navigated through thick flows of broken ice. At first, this was a little unsettling since all I could think about was how strong the bottom of our zodiac was!

Surrounded by magnificent ice formations, we turned our heads and cameras to take it all in! I was overcome by sensory overload with the deep blue ice, the gurgling of the air bubbles in the ancient ice flows, and the thumping of the chunks on the bottom of our zodiac. All of this was coupled with sightings of swimming Adelie and Chinstrap penguins around our zodiac, and a wonderful view of an Argentine research base on the rocky hills.

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Cierva Cove in a zodiac. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Penguin Island

We arrived at Penguin Island, at the perfect time of year (early December) to see the cutest grey fluffy Adelie penguin chicks.  We sat and watched as they were being fed and cared for by the adults. Other passengers hiked to see the volcanic cone of Deacon Peak.

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Baby Adeiie penguins just two days old. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Portal Point

It began to snow quite heavily as we landed at Portal Point. The snow was very deep as we used our poles to steady ourselves on our climb to the top of the point. I sunk almost waist-deep in the snow several times and was assisted to my feet by other passengers to continue the climb. After we explored the area, the real fun started as about 30 passengers and staff stripped down into their bathing suits and walked or jumped into the icy waters for the Polar Plunge while the rest of us cheered them on. They all definitely earned their bragging rights! Even the penguins watched in disbelief from the wet rocks as the chilled plungers emerged and ran for their dry towels and blankets!

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Polar Plunge. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Port Lockroy

One of my highlights was visiting the quirky little “Penguin Post Office” and museum at Port Lockroy — the first British permanent base to be established in the Antarctic Peninsula. (There’s also a colony of adorable Gentoo penguins on the island that acted as “welcoming committee” upon our arrival.)  As a result of the rugged rocky terrain, we had to climb up about eight very steep makeshift steps to get from the Zodiac up to the museum…but it was well worth it.

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Judi at Port Lockroy (Penguin Post Office). * Photo: Lawrence Cohen

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Port Lockroy Penguins. * Photo: Judi Cohen

Our Expert Guides

From our expedition leader to the glaciologists, ornithologists, Antarctic historians, and naturalists, the One Ocean Staff along with the special experts aboard created an open, comfortable atmosphere to be curious and to ask questions about the unique experiences in Antarctica.

One interesting question was about how to handle going to the bathroom while on an excursion. The simple answer was that you can not leave anything on the land that is not naturally present. Needless to say we were all reminded regularly about “managing our ballasts” — i.e. do not eat or drink too much before leaving the ship! For the overnight camping, a bucket and curtain was set up by the excursion team. In the morning it was packed up with all of its “contents” and brought back to the ship.  For day excursions, people had to just hold it!

There were also many questions about the roles of the male and female penguins in protecting their eggs, and about the care and feeding of their chicks.

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Chinstrap Penguins. * Photo: One Ocean Expeditions.

Whether it was an informal conversation in the lounge, a formal presentation, or during excursions, the experts were prepared and eager to engage in conversation and teach us about our surroundings.

My room was next to Dr. Joan Louwrens, who was one of the physicians on our sailing. She attended to the passengers, while a Russian doctor looked after the Russian crew. We got to know Joan quite well since she administered seasickness meds to virtually all of us! She has been an adventure medic for transcontinental cycling trips, and has worked on research and expedition vessels for many years.

Now I am not a birder, nor have I ever expressed an interest in learning about them, however, being in Antarctica surrounded by birds of all kinds and most notably the penguins, I devoted lots of time listening to our Ornithologist, Simon Boyes, speak to us in his thick UK accent about our many feathered friends. It was fascinating to walk with him through hundreds of penguins on their nests, busily transferring rocks and protecting their eggs from the large skuas that swooped down to steal them.

I had the privilege of sketching with our Artist-in-Residence, Falcon Scott, during one of our landings. Falcon is the grandson of Robert Scott, the famous polar explorer and British Royal Navy officer, who led the British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition (1910-1913).

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Falcon Scott, Artist in Residence. * Photo: Judi Cohen

 

An Adventure of a Lifetime

My time on the Vavilov was enriching on every level. And it was a much-needed opportunity to disconnect from the buzz of social media and reconnect with my adventurous spirit. From the colossal tabular icebergs and the mind-boggling scenery to the wildlife sightings and pungent scent wafting for miles around penguin rookeries, visiting Antarctica was certainly a thrill of a lifetime! So, when you set out to plan your next travel experience make sure Antarctica is high on the list!

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

Judi and Lawrence in matching hats!

Antarctica Tips
  • If your trip provides a waterproof coat, pants and boots, (ours did) pack light! Take only a couple of layers of merino wool tops and pants, and a light down puffy jacket.
  • Pack a couple of pairs of gloves, including a light pair that will allow you to use your camera. Your gloves tend to get wet on the zodiac rides. I used small heating inserts in my gloves that worked like a charm.
  • Take a warm hat with ear flaps that can be tied as well as a close fitting knitted hat you can wear over a baseball cap
  • Bring a high-resolution camera, and learn how to use all the nifty settings before you start your trip! Don’t forget extra flash memory and battery backups — you will want to capture every second of the wildlife, natural beauty, the panoramic views, and the icebergs from the moment you arrive! (Oh yeah, NEVER take your camera strap off from around your neck in the zodiac or kayak. A gust of wind or splash of the waves could send your camera to the bottom of the icy sea!)  Wrap your camera in plastic to protect against sea-water damaging it, or keep it inside the dry-sack that is provided to you for the duration of the expedition.
  • Polarized sunglasses and sunscreen are musts. During the summer sailing season, from November to February, there is sunlight for almost 24 hours!
  • Remember that in the Antarctic the only thing that is certain is change. Embrace it! Your itinerary will likely be just a suggestion… Safety is the top priority for your captain and expedition leader who will assess the forecasts and adjust your course. Our expedition leader reminded us that while we ‘city folk’ like to think we can control everything all the time — from the Drake Passage to needing to wait out severe weather — in Antarctica Mother Nature is in charge!
  • For more info on One Ocean Expeditions Antarctica adventures, read the QuirkyCruise company profile.

 

Russian Research Vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov

This Baby Elephant Seal gives new meaning to adorable. * Photo: Judi Cohen

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Aurora Expeditions

Aurora Expeditions.

Australia-based Aurora Expeditions charters expedition-style ships for its far-reaching adventure cruise programs as well as being a full-service travel agency to aid clients with all travel arrangements, including pre- and post-cruise land stays. The firm has been in business for a quarter century and has direct access beyond its Australian home base to colleagues in New Zealand, UK, Canada, US, and the Netherlands.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

Polar Pioneer will operate in Antarctica, Arctic and Scotland until the end of the 2019 Northern Hemisphere’s summer season. She was built in Finland in 1982 as a survey ship and converted in 2000 to carry 54 passengers with Russian officers and crew. Greg Mortimer (named after the firm’s co-founder), a brand-new high-tech expedition ship, will take over the Polar Pioneer’s Arctic and Antarctic programs in October 2019; capacity 120 passengers. Isabella II takes up to 40 passengers in the Galapagos and was refurbished in 2000. Coral Expedition I is a 42-passenger catamaran, refurbished in 2012 to cruise Australia’s remote Kimberley Coast.

Aurora Expeditions

Aboriginal cave art on the Kimberley Coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Passenger Profile

Being Australian-based, the majority come from the Southern Hemisphere, and now with offices elsewhere, also British, Dutch and Canadians and Americans.

Price

$ to $$$

Itineraries

Antarctica expeditions (December-April) leave from southern South America, and some itineraries offer the choice of one way or roundtrip flights across the Drake Passage to and from King George Island for those who wish to avoid the possibility of a rough two-day sea journey. Itineraries bound for the Antarctic Peninsula last 11, 12 or 13 days, while adding South Georgia and the Falklands (some itineraries) lengthens the voyages from 18 to 21 days. Special excursions include camping on a mat inside a thermal sleeping bag. No tent provided in order to see the sky and surroundings; don’t expect much sleep in the daylight nights. Extra tariff excursions: sea kayaking, skiing and snorkeling. Ships: 54-passenger Polar Pioneer until end of the 2018-2019 season and then from November 2019, 120-passenger Greg Mortimer.

Aurora Expeditions

The GREG MORTIMER expedition ship arrives fall 2019.

The Arctic (June-September). Excursions include Zodiac exploration (12 passengers max.) close to ice bergs and ice flows looking for seals and walrus, approaching high cliffs where puffins and guillemots nest, visiting Inuit villages, historic sites where Vikings lived and explorers and whalers camped, and tundra hikes for wildlife sightings and summertime wildflowers and berries.

Svalbard circumnavigations last 11 days; Norway, Scotland and Spitzbergen 14 days, Franz Josef Land, a Russian archipelago, 15 days; Spitzbergen, Iceland and East Greenland 14 days, and add more of Greenland (including rock climbing) for 24 days.

Wild Scotland, 11 days (one annually from late June into July), visits the Inner and Outer Hebrides, including Iona, the birthplace of Christianity in Britain; landing at the far-out island of St. Kilda, home to Europe’s largest bird colony; to the top of Scotland for Shetlands’ stone-, bronze-, and iron-age settlements; and finally, the Orkneys for rugged landscapes, 5,000 year-old Skara Brae settlement and WWII artifacts such as an Italian POW-built chapel.

Aurora Expeditions

Lovely rock garden near Cove, Loch Long, Scotland

The 11-day Kimberley Coast itineraries operate in June and July between Darwin, Northern Territory and Broome, Western Australia, along the remote coastline where nature reigns across over 3,000 islands, colorful rocky cliffs, cascading waterfalls, dramatic tidal changes, remote sandy beaches and where it’s an event to see another boat or any sign of human inhabitants. Climb up to cave paintings and swim in waterholes that have been safely inspected and cleared of Australia’s exotic wildlife before you make the plunge. Ship: 42-passenger Coral Princess I.

Aurora Expeditions

Coral Princess I at Raft Point, Kimberley Coast

The 11-day Galapagos itinerary (September and November) includes two days in Quito exploring the UNESCO colonial heritage site before flying to the islands to join the expedition cruise. Kayak amongst the sea life that comes to the surface, snorkel with sea lions, marine iguanas, and colorful tropical fish, visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn about the latest conservation efforts, and hike across lava fields. Ship: 38-passenger Isabella II.

Aurora Expeditions

Isabella II in the Galapagos.

Included Features

Daily (sometimes twice) excursions and equipment listed for the specific destination; and beer, wine and soft drinks with meals, but not those ordered from the bar. Onboard extras will be gratuities (varies with the ship) and some special equipment for excursions such as snowshoeing, skiing and believe it or not, snorkeling in the Arctic and Antarctica.

Special Notes

The firm includes short biographies of the expedition staff and backgrounds of the shore-based staff. Evacuation insurance is mandatory for all cruises. For some off-ship optional excursions, reservations are required in advance, and the more challenging ones will require medical and experiential data.

Along the Same Lines

Numerous and ever-growing.

Contact

Aurora Expeditions, Suite 12, Level 2, 35 Buckingham Street, Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW 2010, Australia; Telephone: Australia 1 800 637 688; New Zealand 0 800 424 310, UK 0 808 189 2005; US/Canada 1 888 485 5080; Netherlands 0 800 023 0929. www.auroraexpeditions.com.

 

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Seabourn Expeditions

Seabourn Expeditions

Seabourn, which has offered an expedition-style program in Antarctica with the Seabourn Quest since 2013, will continue to do so until the arrival of the purpose-designed pair of expedition vessels expected to debut in 2021 and 2022. They will take up to 264 passengers in 132 all-veranda suites. The first season will see the first of the pair cruise in the Arctic then move south to a first Antarctic season later in the year.

Seabourn Cruise Line introduced a trio of ships that offered a new high standard of luxury accommodations beginning with Seabourn Pride in 1988 with 208 passengers, the identical Seabourn Spirit the following year, and slightly larger Seabourn Legend 1996. When these ships were sold to Windstar Cruises, Seabourn’s new, much larger fleet exceeded QuirkyCruise’s passenger limit with Seabourn Odyssey (2009), Sojourn (2010), and Quest (2011) taking up to 458 passengers and Seabourn Encore (2016) and Ovation (2018) with 600 passengers. So now that Seabourn is entering the expedition ship business, as have other upscale lines, with passenger capacities falling below our 300-passenger limit, we’re back reporting on Seabourn and their new builds.

Seabourn Expeditions

Seabourn Quest is currently operating expedition cruises until the first expedition ship arrives in mid-2021.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

The first will be named Seabourn Venture taking up to 264 passengers and to be delivered in June 2021 with the second yet unnamed ship appearing in May 2022. Designers and builders are T. Mariotti and Damen Shipyards Group. Additional details will be forthcoming for this project that will catapult Seabourn into the super sophisticated expedition market.

Passenger Profile

Past Seabourn passengers and new business with a worldwide draw.

Price

$$$ Top Dollar.

Itineraries

With delivery in June 2021,  the ship will first sail from Lisbon to Greenwich (London) thence to Tromso, Norway where the summer will be spent exploring the Arctic region to include Spitsbergen, Iceland, Greenland and northern Canada. In September, the ship sails to South America and begins its first Antarctic season in November with cruises lasting from 11 to 22 days.

Included Features

Seabourn includes a lot in its pricing, and specific details about the expedition ships will be forthcoming.

Cabins

132 veranda suites.

Activities & Entertainment

Special expedition equipment will include two submarines for underwater exploration, 24 Zodiacs (inflatable boats), and a fleet of kayaks.

Along the Same Lines

Other high-end lines operating large ships and expedition ships are Crystal with Crystal Yacht Cruises and Silversea with Silversea Expeditions.

Contact

Seabourn Cruise Line, 450 Third Ave. W., Seattle, WA 98119; 866-755-5619 (U.S.A. & Canada) or 206-626-9179, www.seabourn.com.

 

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Lindblad Expeditions

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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Lindblad Expeditions

Based in New York, Lindblad Expeditions has a long legacy dating back to Lars-Eric Lindblad’s pioneering expeditions to Antarctica, Easter Island and the Galapagos beginning in the mid-1960s. In the intervening years, the firm, under the leadership of his son, Sven-Olaf Lindblad, has expanded its fleet and ship charters to basically blanket the world for those in search of an adventure by sea. Destinations are expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica; natural history and wildlife cruises to the Galapagos, Indonesia and Borneo; cultural and historical voyages to the British Isles, Greek Isles and Morocco, revived cruise tours to Ancient Egypt — the list goes on and on.

The joint venture with the National Geographic Society established in 2004 expanded Lindblad’s passenger base and drew on the Society’s expertise; especially its photographers who enrich the pages of National Geographic magazine and National Geographic Traveler.  The relationship has expanded from itineraries in the US, Australia and New Zealand to Canada and Latin America.  As a four-time passenger I have always had the strong sense that the expedition and enrichment staff genuinely want to bring you absolutely the best experience possible. The large number on every voyage makes a huge difference in having them readily at hand when ashore or in Zodiacs and providing a rich variety of expertise.

Lindblad Expeditions

The N. G ENDURANCE represents the latest in Expedition ship design. * Rendering: Lindblad Expeditions

In January 2017, Lindblad took delivery of the 96-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR II to replace the long-serving N. G. ENDEAVOUR  in the Galapagos. Then in July 2017, a newly-built 100-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST became the first of two ordered ships to sail alongside the veterans N.G. SEA BIRD and N. G. SEA LION in Alaska, British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest and to reintroduce Belize itineraries.

The second, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE, l entered service in October 2018 on the U.S. west coast. Her seasonal itineraries will be in Baja, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. US-flag ships come from Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, near Seattle. Not stopping there, in mid-March 2018, Lindblad held a keel laying ceremony for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE (126 passengers) commencing construction at the Crist Shipyard in Gdynia, Poland. This Polar Class 5 rated ship is due to be delivered in the second quarter of 2020, and ENDURANCE recalls the name of Ernest Shackleton’s pioneering Antarctic expedition vessel.

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. ENDURANCE offers 13 two-room balcony suites. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

 

The ships vary from perhaps the best-equipped expedition ships afloat to the most nimble for poking around confined spaces, along narrow rivers and into tiny island coves. Here, we treat the ships one by one, to see what they offer and where they venture — some go all over and others stay in one region.

It is hard to beat Lindblad for its creative and professional approach to expedition cruising, so be prepared to pay for the high standards.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Explorer

Lindblad Expeditions

N.G. EXPLORER. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (148 passengers & built 1982 as the rugged Norwegian coastal passenger and roll-on, roll-off ferry liner MIDNATSOL, enlarged for the same service 1989, and rebuilt into an expedition ship in 2008).

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers come on selected expeditions and so do families; Lindblad has a fine program for children, best in the Polar Regions and Galapagos.

Passenger Decks

6. An elevator serves all decks apart from B-Deck for Internet center, Mud Room and lockers.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to the crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER (NGEX) covers more territory in one calendar year than any other in the fleet. In winter, the polar regions include Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia (along with N.G. ORION); in summer the Norwegian fjords, Arctic Norway, Svalbard, Iceland (including a circumnavigation), Greenland, Canadian Arctic and Canadian Maritimes; Fall down South America’s west coast from Peru south to Chile and Argentina (Patagonia) for another Antarctic season; and closing the circle, a spring return to Europe via the Atlantic Islands, Iberia and onto the British Isles and Ireland. Watch for new itineraries. One Iceland and Greenland itinerary includes flights over the latter’s remote glaciers as well as land and sea travel.

Why Go?

The NGEX is  one of the best equipped expedition ship afloat with a fleet of Zodiacs and kayaks, as well as sophisticated equipment such as a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) for underwater exploration, hydrophone, underwater video camera, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore via Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor. On European itineraries, cultural experts and historians are aboard.

When to Go?

The ship ventures to various regions in the most suitable season such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter and the Arctic regions in summer.

Cabins

All cabins, of mostly moderate size (some larger suites), are outside, majority with windows, eight with portholes, and all thankfully have blackout curtains for 24-hour daylight sailings. Beds are queen-size, twins with some convertible to queens, and seven can take a third person at 50% reduction of the double occupancy rate; 13 have balconies. A nice extra is a World Atlas placed in cabins and open to the page you will be exploring. How about that for service?

Public Rooms

Main lounge (seats everyone) with bar equipped for films, slide shows and presentations; observation lounge on Bridge Deck with domed-roof and adjacent library; navigation bridge is generally open to passengers for meeting officers, learning about navigation and spotting wildlife; chart room for studying the region sailing to; fitness center, spa and sauna, Internet café.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is often another public room for the passengers.

The bridge aboard the NGEX is popular gathering place for  passengers, one of the delights of expedition cruising. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Single seating dining room forward and adjacent Bistro (same menu) has additional seating (some tables for two) in a more relaxed arrangement. Meals also offer buffet items at breakfast and lunch. The food is of good quality and well prepared, though that extra freshness may be lacking in remote regions. Lunch buffets also take place up in the domed observation lounge. Go for it; the view while eating is great!

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the excursions ashore and in Zodiacs accompanied by the expedition staff, sharing pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights — with underwater videos shot that day being shown, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the expedition staff. Unscheduled Zodiac excursions may occur when wildlife appears along the shore.

On Svalbard, for example, a polar bear may be spotted as a tiny speck on the ice, and passengers begin to gather, standing in total silence at the bow to watch the distance between the ship nosed into the pack ice and curious bear get ever shorter. I have seen polar bears walk up to the bow and sniff the smells we give off.

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during a cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen)

This curious polar bear came right up to the bow during an expedition cruise around Svalbard. (Spitsbergen) * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Orion

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia's Kimberley Coast.

Approaching the Orion from the stern off Australia’s remote Kimberley Coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ORION (102 passengers & built 2003 as ORION for Australian-based Orion Cruises, acquired by Lindblad in 2013 and underwent a major refit.

Passenger Profile

Mainly 50+, though younger passengers and families come on selected voyages. Given the cruising areas, now Antarctica and the South Pacific, expect some Europeans and Australians.

Passenger Decks

5 decks with an elevator connecting all but the Expedition Deck for the Mud Room, Zodiac boarding and Doctor’s Office.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, all alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, gratuities to crew. So what’s not? WiFi, Spa treatments, shop souvenirs.

Itineraries

Winter in Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia from Ushuaia, Argentina (along with N.G. EXPLORER);  in spring, the NGOR heads first to Chile then across the South Pacific via Easter Island and Pitcairn Island for cruises to Tahiti and around French Polynesia. Also, in the summer in Alaska and along the Aleutian Islands to the Bering Sea, and the Russian Arctic and Russian Far East.

Why Go?

Here is a prime example of an expedition ship that excels for its comforts, style and travel adventure. The N.G. ORION is particularly well-equipped with a fleet of Zodiacs, kayaks, snorkeling gear, scuba diving gear for 24 passengers (on certain itineraries), a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), hydrophone, underwater video cameras, video microscope, a superb expedition team that provides enrichment aboard and explorations ashore and in Zodiacs, and a National Geographic photographer and instructor.

When to Go?

Itineraries are geared to the best season exploring a specific region such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter November to March, while the rest of the year most other cruising areas are in tropical waters.

Cabins

Roomy for a small ship and beautifully-designed and furnished; twin beds that convert to queens, all are outside, 19 with oval windows; 9 with balconies, some of which are small and some shared with neighbors (no partitions); flat-screen TV with DVD/CD player, mini-fridge, personal safe, Internet access for laptops, shower except 4 suites with bathtub. Third person pays 50% of double-occupancy rate in triple-bed cabins. 4 single cabins.

Public Rooms

Attractive main lounge with sit-up bar that seats all for talks and films; renovated observation lounge and library; open bridge policy makes the navigation center another well-used public room.

Orion: Lunchtime on deck. * Photo: Ted Scull

Orion: Lunchtime on deck in Australia.
* Photo: Ted Scull

Dining

Meals are served at one open seating in a restaurant with large-view windows; delightful outdoor café serves buffet breakfast and lunches, and barbecue dinners when the weather is warm. Food is very good and often connected to the cruising region.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the guided excursions ashore, including on foot and bicycles, and in Zodiacs, the evening pre-dinner recaps are amongst the expedition highlights with a film of underwater videos shot that day, a recap of the day’s happenings, and the presentation by the expedition and the lecture staff of the plan for tomorrow. Small hot tub aft on Observation Deck. Fitness center, sauna and spa.

Special Notes

A full-time doctor is aboard.

QuirkyCruise Review

National Geographic Endeavour II

Ships, Years Delivered & Passengers

This ship replaced the long-serving NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR  in early January 2017. The replacement started life as the VIA AUSTRALIS (b. 2005 & 136 passengers), and after major refit now carries just 96 passengers. The family friendly ship will has seven sets of connecting cabins and six triples, and for solo passengers, nine single cabins.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, with some other nationalities, and as Lindblad is well-prepared to handle children, families during the school holidays.

Passenger Decks

6 and no elevator.

Price

$$$   Super Pricey

What’s Included

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

If swimming with sea lions and sidestepping marine iguanas stretched out in the sun sounds intriguing, then think about a week’s small-ship adventure in Ecuador’s Galapagos Archipelago. Even wildlife names and antics are intriguing, such as blue-footed boobies doing their mating dance by lifting one foot, bending their wings and whistling. Days are spent on the water in Zodiacs, in the water snorkeling, and on land hiking with a trained naturalist guide.

                                                                                                                                                      Marine Iguanas. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

When to Go?

That requires a somewhat complex answer. The peak seasons, because of the school holidays, last from mid-June to early September and mid-December to mid-January. December through May, the water is warm for snorkeling and swimming but there will be fewer fish to see. Most days in the first months will see some rain.

The latter part of the season is spring mating time for animals and birds on land, especially sea lions and turtles, plus wild flowers in bloom. June through November brings on the colder waters of the Humboldt Current, therefore, more fish and sea birds are looking for prey, but snorkeling is going to be less comfortable and the ocean is rougher.

Cabins

56, all outside with windows or portholes on Main and A decks. Most cabins are smallish and have compact bathrooms with showers. Amenities are a small fridge and video player.

Public Rooms

Lounge with bar seats all passengers; separate library on the deck above; open bridge policy provides another room and fraternizing with the officers; spa, sauna and fitness center.

Dining

Restaurant is forward on Upper Deck with large view windows either side, and the food is of good quality with some local island ingredients, and Ecuadorian fish such as Wahoo and Dorado.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from the hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and the glass-bottom boat with guides and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera screened, a look back at the day’s happenings, and a plan for tomorrow presented by the naturalists. Small dip-in pool on Veranda Deck aft.

A newly introduced  activity is plein air drawing where a resident artist instructs passengers during regular sessions on board and shore to create images of the wildlife they see, and many are tame enough to pose for you. Look for the departure dates that include this activity.

Lindblad Expeditioins

Sea lion and pup in Galapagos Islands. National Geographic Islander in background. * Photo: David Vargas

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Naturalists that Lindblad hires are likely to be amongst the best available in a very active cruising area. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadorean.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Islander

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ISLANDER (48 passengers & built as the twin-hulled catamaran ISLANDER in 1995, first cruised in Scotland, and taken on by Lindblad in 2004 and renamed).

Passenger Profile

Largely Americans and some Europeans; varied ages and families at holiday periods.

Passenger Decks

4. No elevator.

Price

$$$  Super pricey

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries

Repeating 9-night (including overnights en route) Galapagos island wildlife cruises with ship departures every Friday; land extensions available to Peru — Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

Why Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above, plus the advantage, for some, choosing a ship with half the number of passengers compared to N.G. ENDEAVOUR. Also see this ship above for “Why Go.”

When to Go?

See N.G. ENDEAVOUR II above

Cabins

24 outside, mostly compact cabins on three decks, all with windows. Twins may be arranged as a double or as queen beds. Two cabins can accommodate a third person. Eight cabins on the Upper Deck have glassed-in terraces.

Public Rooms

Aft lounge seats all passengers for evening recaps, lectures and films; adjacent library and Internet Café, fitness center, covered seating aft on Upper Deck, open bridge policy.

Dining

Restaurant is aft on Bridge Deck with open seating for all to dine at one time. Food is average to good with some tasty Ecuadorian specialties.

Activities & Entertainment

Apart from hikes ashore, in Zodiacs and glass-bottom boat with guides, and snorkeling (wet suits in cold weather), the evening pre-dinner recaps are jolly affairs with videos and the day’s results of the underwater camera shown, a look back at the recent happenings, and a plan for tomorrow by the naturalists. See additional Activities under the N.G. ENDEAVOUR.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard. Crew and most of the expedition staff is Ecuadoran.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Quest & National Geographic Venture

Ship, Year Delivered + Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC  QUEST  (built in 2017 and 100 passengers); NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE followed in 2018.

Passenger Profile

Varies depending on the itinerary but mostly Americans, and some Europeans and Australians. Family during the school holidays, attracted by special programs and connecting cabins.

Passenger Decks

4 decks with an elevator serving all desks.

Price

$$$ – Very pricey

Included Features

All sightseeing excursions, Zodiac trips and kayaking, snorkeling gear, wet suits, non-alcoholic drinks..

Itineraries

The NG QUEST expedition ship offers many options, depending on the season and in brief they are: Alaska and Inside Passage (along B. C. coast at the beginning & end of season); Columbia and Snake rivers; Channel Islands off California; Baja California; along the Costa Rican coast and islands and Panama, including a canal transit; and Belize for the reefs, rivers and Mayan ruins.

NG VENTURE covers Alaska and B. C. coast; San Juan Islands; Channel Islands off California; and a long stint in Baja California and the Sea of Cortez.

Lindblad Expeditions

Skagway. * Photo:: C&V Bureau

Why Go?

The NG QUEST, completed in 2017, and NG VENTURE in 2018 have many of the latest features for an expedition vessel and a wide variety of destinations.

When to Go?

The itineraries are geared to the best season for visiting  the destinations.

Cabins

50 outside cabins(136 to 185 sq.ft., and 22 of these with step-out balconies). 6 cabins connect providing side-by-side accommodations for families.

Public Rooms

Large lounge for gathering before meals, including the day’s recap, lectures and videos, and leads out to a viewing platform; dining room aft with windows on three sides; gym and spa; open and partly covered sun deck; and open bridge policy, in effect providing another public room.

Dining

All dining is at one open seating, and the menus will reflect the wide-ranging itineraries.

Activities & Entertainment

While the so-called entertainment category includes presentations by the expedition staff before and after dinner and time at sea; the activities ashore will vary according to the specific itinerary; equipment available includes 10-12 passenger landing craft embarked from two landing platforms and 24 sea kayaks and a fleet of paddelboats; remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for exploring the sea beneath the ship and bringing back images; bow camera, underwater camera, hydrophone for collecting sounds that sea creatures make, video microscope, kayaks, wet suits and snorkeling equipment.

Special Notes

This pair was built by Nichols Brothers, Whidbey Island, Washington, the same yard that completed the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD. They fly the US flag hence they can sail on domestic itineraries without having to call at a foreign port, although the pair does venture south to Mexico and Central America.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

National Geographic Sea Lion & Sea Bird

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sea Lion, whalewatching in the Pacific off Bahia Magdalena. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA BIRD (62 passengers & built 1981, later upgraded and reduction in passenger capacity by eliminating lowest-deck cabins.

Most recently with the arrival of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST and NG VENTURE the old pair were further refitted with newly redecorated interiors for the lounge and bar, dining room and cabins. They carry sea kayaks, a fleet of paddleboats, video microscope, hydrophone and bow camera.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Americans, generally 50+ and few families on the Columbia-Snake itineraries, and more likely on the other trips, especially during school holidays.

Passenger Decks

3 and no elevator

Price

$$ Expensive but less pricey than the two new US flag vessels.

Included Features

All shore activities, Zodiac and kayak explorations, 24-hour, coffee, tea, soda, bottled water.

Itineraries
  • Southeast Alaska cruises between Juneau and Sitka.
  • One-way positioning cruises early May and early September between Seattle via the Inside Passage along the British Columbia coast, calling at Haida Gwaii (island) and into Southeast Alaska.
  • Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean coast of Baja California for serious whale watching. In the height of whale watching season — gray and hopefully sperm, blue and fin whales in the lagoons along the Pacific Coast, and the islands in the Sea of Cortez.
  • Channel Islands and Santa Catalina from Los Angeles for the beach life, hiking, sea kayaking, paddle boarding and meditation sessions.

Intense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted ScullIntense birders on the Costa Rican coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why Go?

Every itinerary has its numerous attractions. Alaska: glaciers, fjords, wildlife on land and sea and with the grandeur of Glacier Bay National the highlight, especially enjoyed on such a small ship; Baja California on both coasts for the varieties of birds; snorkeling among sea lions; coastal and island hikes.

Both vessels are about as simple as any small ships get, a bit pokey, past their prime, yet well maintained with excellent expedition staffs. So forget any thought of luxury and go for the wonderful experience. The Columbia-Snake rivers route was my first soft-adventure by ship – the Sea Lion, some 30 years ago.

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

Dramatic scenery along the Columbia/Snake Rivers. * Photo: Ted Scull

When to Go?

The two ships are positioned where the weather is best for expedition and soft adventure activities, so there are no cautions needed.

Cabins

Small and all outside with view windows, some twins may be converted to a double bed, and a few can take a third person at 50% of the double occupancy rate. Cabins on Bridge and Upper decks open onto a side promenade, while Main Deck cabins are accessed from a central corridor. These latter six cabins are also adjacent to the dining room, therefore a convenient, but also trafficked corridor.

Public Rooms

A single forward observation lounge with a bar; forward outdoor open observation deck and partly covered Bridge Deck. Spa and exercise equipment.

Dining

Food is good with buffet at breakfast, family-style service at lunch and served dinners.

Activities & Entertainment

Evening recaps of the day; plans for the day ahead and talks (some illustrated) by the naturalist staff using results of underwater video and video microscope. Depending on the itinerary, kayaking, snorkeling (with wet suits in Baja), and expedition landing craft for going ashore on hikes.

Special Notes

A doctor is aboard on in Baja and Costa Rica/Panama and an undersea specialist in Alaska and Baja.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

And In Brief — Partial Year Ship Charters

Sea Cloud
SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

SEA CLOUD approaching Nice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

Lindblad charters the 64-passenger SEA CLOUD ($$$), a legendary sailing vessel built in Germany as a private yacht in 1931 and converted to a cruise vessel in 1979. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to sail in her —  in the Mediterranean, the Greek islands from Piraeus (Athens); along the Greek and Dalmatian coasts between Piraeus (Athens) and Dubrovnik; and Sicily and Malta.

The best, and the most expensive cabins, are the beautifully furnished eight originals on Main Deck when the Sea Cloud was E.F. Hutton’s private yacht built for his wife, Marjorie Meriweather Post (cereal heiress). The added cabins are modern, very attractively fitted and considerably less expensive, though not cheap. The main lounge is beautifully paneled and with parquet floors. Food and service are great, and some meals are taken out on deck. The Caribbean offers just the occasional one-week cruise from Barbados in winter.

Delfin II

Lindblad has chartered the Amazon riverboat DEFLIN II ($$$) since 2010 taking 28 passengers in 14 luxurious cabins on one-week cruises along two of the river’s upper tributaries. The riverboat has an enclosed lounge, an open lounge and bar under a top deck canopy. The dining saloon is the deck below with big windows facing aft, and the food is quite special and sometimes exotically sourced from the rain forest.

The cabins, with a desk and chair, are lovely with wood trim, wooden floors, large view windows, twin beds that can form kings; and two suites have king-size beds only. Some can be interconnected for families, and four face forward with terrific views. Bathrooms are roomy. Excursions ashore are made in 10-person skiffs and kayaks, plus some walking where paths exist.

A national reserve in remote Amazonia is the highlight, looking out for exotic bird species, monkeys and anacondas of the rain forest, and pink and gray dolphins, piranhas and red-eyed caiman in the dark waters, sometimes decorated with giant water lilies. Cruises operate year-round except April and September.

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Jahan

The more than comfortable 48-passenger riverboat JAHAN ($$$) cruises the Mekong between Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Cambodia and My Tho (near Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City) on 15-day cruise-tours from January to March. The famous temple complex, Cambodia’s capital at Phnom Penh, and the teeming life along the river are the highlights.

Harmon V  (Note: This ship is not currently operating.)

This chartered 46-passenger ship, with stabilizers, will take 46 passengers in all outside cabins with windows on 11-day cruise tours beginning in December and running through March. Days 1-3 are spent in Havana then 4-11 on board the ship calling at the colonial cities of Trinidad and Cienfuegos, located on Cuba’s south coast, Islas de la Juventud and the Bay of Pigs where a failed U.S. invasion took place in 1961.

First New Ice-Class Polar Vessel

Lindblad’s building its first ocean-going ice-class polar vessel, a 126-passenger ship with the distinctive X-BOW to provide fuel efficiency and significantly improve passenger comfort in rough seas. Delivery for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE is planned for early 2020.

Lord of the Glens
Lindblad Expeditions

Crinan Canal, Scotland. * Photo: Ted Scull

A Scottish 48-passenger, 4-deck vessel with 52 outside cabins makes 9-day canal, loch and island itineraries in June, July and August between Kyle of Lochalsh (across from the Isle of Skye) and Inverness. The route calls for stops on Skye, Eigg or Rhum, Iona, Oban, Loch Linnhe, Glenfinnan Viaduct, Neptune’s Steps (flight of locks) in the Caledonian Canal, then passing through Loch Ness to Inverness, thus having crossed the Scottish mainland to just short of the North Sea.

Note: For a fuller account of the ship and its itinerary, go to the ship’s owner, Magna Carta Steamship Company.

Oberoi Philae

The newly-rebuilt Nile riverboat with enlarged accommodations for 42 in 22 cabins and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows, including four suites, has two restaurants with one on the Sun Deck, and several lounges. 13-day cruise tours will operate between January and March and September to December.

The land portion begins in Cairo for the museum, Coptic churches in Old Cairo and Ben Ezra synagogue before flying south to Luxor and boarding the 6-day cruise that give access to the temple at Luxor and Karnak, a felucca sail, Valley of the Kings, Edfu, Kom Ombo and the island temple at Philae on the far side of the Aswan High Dam. After visiting the temple at Abu Simbel, fly back to Cairo to stay at the Mena House (the original and now much enlarged hotel adjacent to the Pyramids at Giza), plus step pyramid at Saqqara. A five-day extension is available to Jordan.

Contact

Lindblad Expeditions, 96 Morton Street, New York, NY 10014; 800-397-3348 or 212-265-3770.

TWS

 

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The Polar Code

QuirkyCruise’s Heidi Sarna had an e-chat about the Polar Code with Atle Ellefsen, Chief Naval Architect at the Oslo headquarters of DNV GL, a global foundation working in all business areas including ship classification and maritime advisory. Heidi met Atle in 2000 at the Meyer Werft Shipyard in Germany, when Atle was director of new building for Royal Caribbean and Heidi was there to research a book she was writing about the line’s Radiance of the Seas, a big ship Heidi will always cherish.

Read more about Atle at the end of the post.

 

Q: What is the Polar Code and why is it important to small ship cruising?
The Polar Codes

Chief Naval Architect Atle Ellefsen, of DNV GL

Atle Ellefsen:  The growth in maritime commercial activity in the Polar Regions has brought on new challenges and risks, not only for the ships that sail there, but also for the polar environment and those dependent on it.

In 2016, nearly 2,300 ships were operating in polar waters, and so the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a new, mandatory Polar Code to provide for safe ship operation and environmental protection in the Polar Regions, on top of their foundational Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS)* and International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) requirements.  The Polar Code acknowledges that polar waters may impose additional demands on ships beyond those normally encountered.

The Polar Code came into force in January 2017 and it’s retroactive for old ships.

By 2020 all existing ships certified to SOLAS and sailing in polar waters, are expected to carry the Polar Code ship certificate. In the Antarctic, the Polar Code is in force in all waters south of latitude 60 ‘S; in the Arctic in all waters north of latitude 60 ‘N, with deviations to include southern Greenland and Svalbard, but excluding Iceland and Norway.

The Polar Codes

Credit: DNV GL

The intent of the code is to increase safety and mitigate the impact on people and the environment in the remote, vulnerable and harsh polar waters. There are a number of requirements specific to passenger ships, for example to lifesaving equipment, stability and redundancy depending on the vessel’s polar code category, ice class, polar service temperature, and itinerary — all of which has to be decided by the cruise line. There are no requirements that differentiate according to the size of the cruise ship, or the number of passengers.

Whether large or small, cruise ship or cargo ship, the Polar Code is equally applicable.

Click here for more details on the Polar Code.

*All passenger ships in international trade over a certain size have to comply with the SOLAS’ “Safe Return to Port” regulation, which dictates that in case of fire or flooding in any room, all critical systems shall remain in operation with sufficient residual capacity to be able to return, on its own, to the nearest safe port — which in Antarctica may be over a thousand miles away.

The Polar Code

The cruise ship Sea Spirit in front of a huge Iceberg in Antarctic Sound. Antarctic Sound is at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and connects the Southern Ocean to the Weddell Sea. Even in the summer months it is often filled with huge tabular icebergs. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Q: Who is responsible for enforcing the Polar Code?

Atle Ellefsen: The key entities are the IMO, flag states and port states.

The Polar CodeThe Polar Code is established and maintained by the United Nations through the IMO, and it is the ship’s flag state (or country of registry) that enforces its ships are compliant.

Classification societies (such as DNV GL, for whom I work) are also involved as authorized representatives of the flag states to certify ships on their behalf, and to handle the compliance, inspections and certifications that go along with it. In this role, class societies are enforcing the flag state’s regulations, not the class societies’ own rules.

To maintain a ship’s polar certificate, it is regularly boarded for inspection (announced and un-announced) by officials from the flag state, the classification society and/or various maritime authorities of the host country. If the ship does not have all certificates and permits in order, including the polar certificate, she could be detained and the company fined.

 

Q: How has the Polar Code evolved over the decades?

Atle Ellefsen: The Polar Code has developed over some 20 years. After years of discussions, in 2002 the IMO established the non-mandatory “Guidelines for Ships Operating in Arctic Ice-Covered Waters.” The intention was that these guidelines would cover Antarctica as well, but the Antarctic Treaty Parties (ATP) objected to IMO’s involvement, restricting the guidelines to Arctic waters. This changed when the expedition vessel Explorer sank in Antarctica in 2007. With this, and an increasing awareness following a number of other accidents and near-misses in the Polar Regions, the ATP requested that the IMO extend the guidelines to Antarctica, which it did in 2010. The mandatory code was developed and finally implemented as the Polar Code in 2017.

 

Q: How does the Polar Code affect passenger ships?

Atle Ellefsen: Fundamentally, a ship owner identifies which hazards of the polar environment are relevant to the ship and then implements designs and operational measures to effectively alleviate the hazards.

The Polar Code affects almost all aspects of a ship and has to be considered from the minute an idea for a new ship is scribbled on a napkin through to its design, construction, testing and delivery.

The Polar Code requires that:

  • Every piece of steel, and all the ship’s machinery and systems, need to be assessed in terms of frigid temperatures and treacherous waters. This may require special technical solutions such as de-icing on exposed equipment, controls operable by crew in bulky clothing, and materials be able to retain their mechanical properties without cracking or becoming brittle.
  • Enhanced lifesaving equipment is also necessitated for passenger ships, such as heated, enclosed lifeboats with long-range fuel, provisions and water capacity, and also outfitted with thermal immersion survival suits, sleeping bags and tents.
  • The ship must have voice and data communication with shore anywhere within its operational area, be able to detect ice in darkness, and maintain the required stability margins with thirty millimeters of accumulated ice on deck, which on a typical exploration cruise ship amounts to over a hundred tons topside.
  • The hull may have to be reinforced in order to sail in ice, depending on the severity. Most polar exploration cruise ships are strengthened for light ice conditions.

For new ships, the Polar Code assessment is carried out with the shipyard at the very beginning of the design phase. Here the owner needs to decide where and in what ice conditions to sail, and determine the lowest temperature in which to operate, the so-called Polar Service Temperature (PST).

The Polar CodeMy company, DNV GL, has a designated team of consultants working full time with owners and yards, guiding them through the labyrinths of the Polar Code.

 

 

 

Q: Could climate change, especially the warming of the Arctic region, affect the Polar Code in the future?

Atle Ellefsen: As temperatures warm and ice conditions become less difficult, then a ship will likely be able to go places tomorrow that it cannot go today — ironically, cruise ships themselves are one of the contributors to global warming. That said, I don’t foresee changes to the Polar Code because of global warming.

The Polar Code

Poseidon Expeditions in Antarctica. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

 

Q: Does the Polar Code inform the design of new technology, such as the X-Bow? 

Atle Ellefsen: It’s more likely that commercial factors steer the development of new designs and technology for passenger ships plying the Polar Regions — for example to appeal to the ultra-luxury segment, or designs to enable budget cruising.

Suppliers and shipbuilders are continuously developing their products, improving performance, environmental impact and energy consumption. As you would expect, equipment for polar use is more sophisticated, rugged and expensive than standard cruise ship equipment.

Ulstein’s X-bow, for instance, was designed to improve seakeeping on offshore support vessels in the North Sea. Especially on standby ships to offshore oil platforms that face strong waves, the effect is remarkable compared to wide, flared bows and might reduce sea spray and thus icing in polar waters. The X-bow can be, like most traditional bows and hulls, built with the required ice strengthening for polar passenger cruising, however it’s not the only bow type that performs well in heavy seas and in ice.

Only ice-breakers have purpose-built bows, designed to slide up on the ice and by its sheer weight crush down on it.

 

The Polar Code

Ulstein’s X-bow on the SunStone’s upcoming new builds. * Photo: SunStone

More about Atle Ellefsen

Atle started designing ships as a teenager and his career path was laid out after graduating with a master’s degree in naval architecture and maritime technology from the University of Trondheim, Norway. A fellow member of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, he has worked in almost all areas of ship design, shipbuilding and management. He had his own design business for 10 years, and for six years he was Royal Caribbean’s newbuilding project director, developing and overseeing the cruise line’s projects in France and Germany. Atle currently holds the position of chief naval architect in DNV GL maritime advisory, assisting ship-owners in devising new, innovative concepts; shipyards in improving capabilities; and financiers with due diligence on maritime investments. Working with top managers worldwide, he is a specialist on cruise ships and has in the last few years assisted the increasing number of owners and yards new to the cruise industry. Atle has three children, and in his spare time he enjoys dabbling in art and sailing his yacht.

 

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Polar Climate Change

QuirkyCruise’s Heidi Sarna asks polar guide and PTGA President Graham Charles about polar climate change, what he’s observed and learned over the 20 years he’s been traveling and guiding in the Antarctic and Arctic regions. Graham also discusses what expedition cruise operator associations — IAATO for Antarctica and AECO for the Arctic region — have been doing to promote responsible tourism.

Read our first Q&A with Graham about the PTGA (Polar Tourism Guides Association).

QC: How many times have you been to the Polar Regions in your 20-year career?

Graham Charles: I’ve travelled to the Polar Regions extensively, across both the north and south, since 1998. I started working at New Zealand’s key research station, Scott Base, in 1998. Since then I have been there every year and to most parts of the North and South Poles except the Russian polar region.

Polar Climate Change

Graham and an emperor penguin, the largest of the penguin species and endemic to Antarctica. * Photo: Richard White

QC: When you’re working on an expedition cruise around the poles, do you talk about climate changes with the passengers? If so, how do you frame the issue?

Graham Charles: Yes I do, but depending on what sort of trip it is the “forum” always has to be considered. If I’m presenting on something like “ice” or running a re-cap of the day there is always an easy apolitical way to segue into it and see what the feeling is. As an expedition leader with any IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) or AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) company, I’m obligated to include education and information about it. Out on excursions I might mention it in passing and let the guests come up with the questions and go from there. The biggest issue is getting into the discussion slowly and carefully so as not to lose those who might not yet be convinced.

Polar Climate ChangePolar Climate ChangeIAATO was founded in 1991 and AECO, in 2003. IAATO is a bigger organization than AECO, though both were built around the same ideas and philosophy of managing responsible, environmentally friendly and safe tourism in the polar regions. Both organizations’ websites are packed with great information — history, regulations, maps, wildlife, climate change, weather, scientific papers and more.

 

 

QC: Have some of the landing settings changed over the period you’ve been traveling to both Polar Regions? If so, how? 

Graham Charles: The big manifestations in the north are far more obvious than the south. Mostly this is obvious in glacial retreat and shrinking sea ice coverage. The southern polar tourism regions change a lot year-to-year depending more on local and shorter-term weather conditions, while in the north, climate change is very evident.

 

QC: As you approach a landing, do you point out changes that you have seen over the years to passengers?

Graham Charles: Yes I would and northern regions like Greenland and the whole Canadian arctic archipelago exhibit far more manifestations of climate change than many other areas. There is a particular hike behind the town of Qannaq in northern Greenland I really like and we visit a glacier. There are exposed rocks, for instance, that 10 years ago when I stood in the same spot, were covered by a glacier — the glacier has receded and is now a long way away.

Polar Climate Change

This piece of the Greenland ice cap filled the terminal moraine to the top when Graham first visited it. Now it’s on its way out. * Photo: Graham Charles


QC:
In your experience have there been visible changes in wildlife in either pole — the numbers of penguins, seals, and birds seen?

Graham Charles: Let me be clear, I’m not a scientist with intimate scientific knowledge of a particular region or area, but I can say that one of the biggest climate change issues facing the south is the issue of non-native species taking root. This is particularly obvious on the Antarctic Peninsula where it has warmed the most and so is potentially inviting to non-native plants and critters. Another manifestation visible (with interpretation) to tourists is the southward migration of Gentoo penguins and their colonisation of areas traditionally held by Adelie penguins. They breed earlier than Adelies and look for nesting sites clear of snow earlier. With a warming Peninsula, changes in wildlife and plants make a good talking piece and great introduction to the issue.

 

QC: What changes are going on in the Polar Regions that passengers cannot see, but that you’re aware of?

Graham Charles: Like anyone else I’m aware of them via science articles, blogs and information from peers. These changes are happening at a rapid rate — shrinking glaciers, increased “rain” days on the Antarctic Peninsula, increased glacial bed lubrication, increased outflow speeds, huge ice shelves collapsing, a new polynya (a hole or area of unfrozen sea within the ice pack) opening up in the middle of nowhere, and so on.

 

QC: Given that all travelers will have an impact on the environment, albeit rather small, what is the impact specifically?

Graham Charles: I don’t know any exact measurements in terms of tonnage of CO2 used per passenger to join a polar cruise, but obviously it is a huge increase on what their carbon footprint might be if they were to stay at home. Ships traditionally have a pretty hefty footprint, but the new Polar Code efforts by IAATO and AECO, and the use of new technology like hybrid engines and hydrogen-fuelled ships, should help this profile now and into the future.

Polar Climate Change

The 12-passenger Hanse Explorer. * Photo: Richard White


QC:
What has IAATO done in the Antarctic that has helped reduce travelers’ impact?

Graham Charles: IAATO is doing an incredible job in this area and is the flag-bearer for us all. The Polar Tourism Guides Association’s (PTGA) Code of Conduct embraces all efforts by IAATO and AECO and our members are bound to the superb environmental work they do. They led the way in the Antarctic community years ago by putting measures in place to reduce the risk of introducing non-native species (see above) to Antarctica — i.e cleaning all equipment and clothing, and using environmentally sensitive disinfectant to mitigate against it. IAATO has a Climate Change Working Group that advises their membership on how they can reduce their footprint — such as planning itineraries to minimise fuel use and ship-hotel related actions that apply to everyone such as minimising plastic use, local food sources, closing curtains, and re-useable water containers.

Some IAATO operators are “carbon neutral,” others have environmental schemes in place to help offset emissions. All IAATO operators must offer an education programme as part of their itinerary and this usually includes climate change — making visitors aware of their carbon footprint and steps they can take to reduce it. IAATO has created a Climate Change presentation and pamphlet, which is currently being reviewed by the Scientific Committee of Antarctic Research (SCAR). Some IAATO member operators are already using hybrid ships and considering hydrogen as an option — this is all good news for the industry and environment as a whole.

IAATO has been invited to participate in relevant Antarctic Treaty System groups focussed on climate change as a means to address the reduction of the carbon footprint of all human activity in Antarctica (the Antarctic Treaty System is a collection of agreements to regulate relations among the 50+ countries active in the Antarctic). It’s a good reminder that tourists are not the only people “traveling” to the Antarctic; others there include scientific researchers and fishermen. In terms of tangible efforts and measures related to climate change, the bottom line is that if people are traveling to Antarctica, they should be traveling with an IAATO-member company (there are still a handful of operators who are not).

Polar Climate Change

Graham in Antarctica, the Great White Continent . * Photo: PTGA


QC:
How can passengers and staff be useful advocates, without being bombastic, for awareness of climate change?

Graham Charles: Engagement and impact is the key. If people don’t engage in a topic there is little to no chance of anything meaningful come out of it. We are global citizens and to not engage in this day and age is not an acceptable option. However we run an expedition, presentation or excursion, we have to make an impact. It’s our role as professional guides and conduits of the IAATO/AECO/PTGA missions to educate people. The more impactful we can make these interactions the greater chance we have of making a difference. This is our greatest role in mitigating the carbon footprint of being there in the first place.

 

QC: In your experience, which types of expedition vessels do the best job of keeping their footprint as light as possible?  

Graham Charles: It really comes down to what engines and fuel oil the vessels run on and how efficient the energy (power, water production) systems are on-board. Newer technology is much better, but it doesn’t mean a particular company doesn’t try to do all they can if they have an older ship. Everyone does as much as they can and they are aware of the irony involved.

 

QC: How do you reconcile your own impact traveling in delicate areas of the world, where climate change is quite visible? Does the education value of travel mitigate the carbon footprint?

Graham Charles: This is something I grapple with every year and is a tough question to answer. The simple answer is I can’t. The reality of negative impact vs positive can never really be measured. How would you measure the number of people I have engaged/educated/impacted and to what level value can be placed on their potential carbon offset? I just don’t know. I continue to try and help engagement through impactful education and engagement and doing interviews with blogs like QuirkyCruise. All passengers who visit the Polar Regions should be thinking and learning about these issues. It’s real.

 

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Polar Latitudes

Polar Latitudes is an expedition firm entirely focused on the south polar region that includes Antarctic Peninsula, South Atlantic Islands, the British Falkland Islands, and South Georgia with its Ernest Shackleton connection and where visitors will likely see more birds than almost anywhere else in the world.

Snapshot

Polar Latitudes, established in 2010, charters ships exclusively for Antarctic cruising, and on longer itineraries, to the Falklands and South Georgia. The line’s expedition staff is known for its professionalism.

Ships & Years Delivered

Hebridean Sky (built 1991, refitted 2016, 114 passengers); Island Sky (b.1992, refitted 2015 & 2017, 112p).  Both ships have operated under previous names and are very similar in layout and amenities.

Polar Latitudes

The Hebridean Sky * Photo: Polar Latitudes

Polar Latitudes Passenger Profile

Mostly North Americans, adventuresome folks who also like their comforts.

Passenger Decks

Elevators connect all five decks.

Price

$$$, expensive

Included features

Shore excursions, except kayaking and camping; pre-cruise resort stay near Ushuaia; complimentary stocked mini-bar (wine, beer, soft drinks), and same at dinner; expedition jacket.

Itineraries

All voyages* begin and end in Ushuaia, Argentina with a one-night pre-cruise stay at a resort hotel. The shortest and most frequently offered itineraries last 11 or 12 days and concentrate on the Antarctic Peninsula. An occasional 15-day trip uses the extra time to sail south of the Antarctic Circle. The 20-day expeditions head first to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia before doubling back to the Antarctic Peninsula. * The exceptions are the first and last voyages of the season beginning and ending at Puerto Madryn, Argentina.

Camping in Antarctica. * Photo: Polar Latitudes

Camping in Antarctica. * Photo: Polar Latitudes

Why Go?

The beauty of Antarctica, cleanest air in the world, majestic and often colorful icebergs, glaciers, and wildlife — on the sea, on land and in the air.

When to Go?

Departures operate from late October to late February. Polar Latitudes’ website has a great summary of the highlights of going in October-November vs December-January vs February-March.

Cabins

Arranged forward on all five passenger decks, all are designated suites as even the smallest have a sitting area with a sofa bed (suitable for a third person) and chair. Size begins at 220 and 260 square feet, with penthouse suites 325 sq. ft. and the owner’s suite 385 feet, the latter two categories located on the highest Penthouse deck. Veranda and Penthouse deck accommodations have private balconies. Suites on lowest deck have portholes rather than windows.

Polar Latituds

Owners’ Suite. * Photo: Polar Latitudes

Public Rooms

Apart from the forward observation lounge high up on the Penthouse Deck, all public spaces are located aft. Two lounges, one with an adjacent library (see photo below) and the other for social gatherings and expedition staff talks; restaurant on lowest deck; an outdoor deck with café and bar on Veranda Deck. Promenade deck has a narrow wraparound walking path.

Library aboard Hebridean Sky. * Photo: Polar Latitudes

Library aboard Hebridean Sky. * Photo: Polar Latitudes

Dining

The restaurant operates with one open seating at all meals.

Activities & Entertainment

Two optional activities with capacity limits need to be pre-booked. Camping ashore (limit 30) on the ice in small tents begins after dinner on board to before breakfast back on the ship. Listen to the sounds of the sea and creaking ice. Kayaking (limit 16), single or tandem, will take place multiple times, with the number depending on the weather conditions. Complimentary activities: A photography coach gives lessons, talks and leads ventures ashore. Citizen Science is a program for passengers to engage in ongoing scientific research projects by collecting data for a specific project. Sign up on board.

Kayaking in Antarctica. * Photo: Polar Latitudes

Kayaking in Antarctica. * Photo: Polar Latitudes

Special Notes

Antarctica is this firm’s only business.

Along the Same Lines

Numerous other Antarctic expedition providers.

Polar Latitudes Contact

Polar Latitudes, POB 1227, White River Junction, VT 05001; 802-698-8479; polar-latitudes.com.

 

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Articles About Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises

HANSEATIC Inspiration cruises Antarctica. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

HANSEATIC Inspiration cruises Antarctica. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

N.B. HANSEATIC INSPIRATION will resume sailings for the English and German-speaking markets when the ship departs from Hamburg on September 7, 2020 on a cruise to Greenland. The following few sailings will feature Western European and Mediterranean ports. The ship will sail at 60% of capacity and will have a full day in port to undergo a thorough cleansing.

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Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises traces its origins back to the 19th century when two German firms — Hamburg-American and North German Lloyd — entered the passenger trade, competing largely on the North Atlantic and then spreading their routes to other parts of the world. Later they merged, and today the passenger cruise business is owned by the TUI Group that operates the top-rated, medium-size cruise ships, EUROPA (built 1999 & 400 passengers) and EUROPA 2 (b. 2013 & 500 p), the latter offering guaranteed English-speaking cruises; and a pair of expedition vessels: BREMEN (b.1990 & 155 p) and HANSEATIC (b. 1991 & 175 p), the latter now sold with a trio of high-tech expeditions ships coming on line. The BREMEN may offer some bilingual cruises from time to time and is also chartered by English-speaking affinity groups.

N.B. A trio of high-tech expedition ships with 120 passenger cabins and suites have the first in service and two under construction: HANSEATIC NATURE entered service in May 2019 for German-speaking passengers, HANSEATIC INSPIRATION (October 2019) for both German- and English-speaking passengers), and HANSEATIC SPIRIT (adults only) for delivery in Spring 2021. The 15,650-ton ships are being built in Norway’s VARD shipyard.  Passenger capacity will be limited to 199 for Antarctic and Spitsbergen (circumnavigation) cruises. Additional details will be available on QuirkyCruise.com as the first delivery gets closer but it is safe to say that this class will be 5 Star in accommodations, amenities, expedition gear and ice classification.

Hapag Lloyd Expedition Cruises

Bar Observation Lounge. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

Passengers

While Hapag-Lloyd is a German company, drawing mainly German-speaking passengers, selected bilingual cruises are set aside for English-speaking passengers with guaranteed departures. That means that all documentation, handbooks, programs, announcements, menus, lectures and safety drills will be in English. Shore excursions are arranged separately. Any other international cruises that attract at least 15 English-speaking passengers will automatically become bilingual as the aforesaid  Those cruises will be featured here, and expect German-speaking passengers in varying numbers and often in the majority.

Passenger Decks

7 decks and lifts serve all levels except the Sun Deck, the highest and with a small outdoor area.

Price

$$$

Included features

Expeditions ashore in Zodiacs (14) and tenders; parkas, rubber boots, snorkeling gear, Nordic walking poles and bicycles, depending on the itinerary; staff gratuities; sending & receiving e-mails up to 1MB; minibar with soft drinks replenished daily; a bottle of Champagne upon arrival.

Itineraries

A full winter program of Antarctica cruises include the Falklands, South Georgia, South Shetland and South Orkney Islands, Weddell Sea, and the Antarctic Peninsula. The large number of Zodiacs carried means that everyone can be on an excursion at one time, and not waiting aboard for a second or third rotation as with larger capacity ships. Highlights are the varieties of penguins, incredible numbers of birds (especially at South Georgia), whales, walrus, seals; Zodiac excursions to get close to beautiful ice formations and glaciers, a former whaling station, and connections to the Ernest Shackleton expedition.

Pre-Antarctic season, a Pacific cruise begins in Tahiti and calls at numerous islands, remote and virtually unknown, and justly famous such as Pitcairn (Mutiny on the Bounty), Easter Island (stone statues) and Robinson Crusoe Island (inspiration for the fictional character) and onto Puerto Montt at the north end of the Chilean fjords.

Post-Antarctic season, one cruise makes a nearly complete West Coast of South America voyage from near the southern tip at Patagonia and sails northward past glaciers, into the Chilean fjords, calls at Valparaiso, the lovely port for the capital Santiago then onto Peru and Ecuador.

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Amazon journey begins way up river at Iquitos (Peru, and headwaters of navigation for ocean-going ships) and travels 2,500 miles (4,000 kms) to the mouth at Belem. Zodiacs take you to remote Indian tribes who live along the riverbanks and to tropical fruit and vegetable markets, cruise for pink river dolphins, make explorations into tributaries penetrating the world’s largest rain forest, filled with flowers and exotic birds. At the meeting of the waters where the Rio Negro joins the Amazon sits Manaus, the largest city on the river and boasting an opera house, built during the rubber boom period. The Amazon then widens considerably as it reaches the delta and spreads out into several channels.

From Belem on the northeast Brazilian coast, the itinerary explores the Orinoco, offers a flight to Angel Falls, calls at off-shore islands, a UNESCO site, national parks for bird life, sloths, and monkeys, a research station, examples of Spanish colonialism, San Blas Indians, views of the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal, and finishes at Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.

HANSEATIC in the Amazon basin. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

 

 

Spitsbergen (Svalbard), a circumnavigation cruise, is a large archipelago tied politically to Norway, two days by sea north of the North Cape and well above the Arctic Circle. The expedition embarks at Longyearbyen, the capital with an excellent museum, and goes in search of polar bears that often come to the shore, well within camera range, plus whales, walrus, Arctic foxes, birds, fantastic cliff formations, ventures into fjords, up close to glaciers and makes Zodiac landings where it safe from polar bears. The final couple of days visit the North Cape with disembarkation at Tromso, Norway’s largest community above the Arctic Circle.

Svalbard: Polar bears feeding on a whale carcass. * Photo: Ted Scull

Svalbard: Polar bears feeding on a whale carcass. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Northeast Passage, less frequented than the Northwest Passage, follows an Arctic route from Northern Europe eastward across the top of Siberian Russia, Kamchatka and Kuril Islands to Japan.

FUTURE ITINERARIES include an unusual circumnavigation of Iceland embarking and disembarking at Reykjavik and visiting nine locations – islands, volcanoes, fjords, fishing villages, bird inhabited cliffs, waterfalls; the west coast of Greenland with its colorful villages, early Viking settlements, ice fjords, and at sea, humpback and fin whales, then onto Labrador for breathtaking scenery such as spectacular rock formations, Inuit culture artifacts, traditional fishing villages and fjords; coastal southern Africa with two port calls in Namibia revealing architecture from the former German colonial rule and six ports in South Africa including Cape Town and Durban and access to the lovely Garden Route, beautiful beaches, and game parks for the homes of the “Big Five.”

Why Go?

There is a wonderful world out there, and the destinations outlined here can only be comprehensively done by ship.

When to Go?

The expedition cruises are scheduled for the best seasons such as Antarctica in the Northern Hemisphere winter and the Arctic Regions in summer.

Cabins

HANSEATIC Nature/Inspiration/Spirit: All outside cabins and most with balconies or French balconies; separable beds; equipped with binoculars, Nordic Walking sticks, coffee machine, minibar (free), and heated bathroom for drying towels and parkas.

Hapag Lloyd Expedition Cruises

HANSEATIC Inspiration – French balcony cabin. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

Public Rooms

The principal spaces are the Observation Lounge with bar and adjacent library, with 180-degree views, Explorer Lounge with bar and a dance floor for presentations and occasional musical entertainment.

Dining

The restaurant is the main dining area for all meals (excellent menu selections including Continental as well as German specialties) seats everyone at one assigned sitting at dinner, with open seating for breakfast and lunch. Americans like open seating and Germans like fixed, so this is the fair compromise. Buffets-style meals take place in the informal café and tables are available just outside in good weather. Barbeques and themed dinners here require reservations, but entail no extra charge. Tea time is a daily ritual.

Activities & Entertainment

There are film presentations and lectures in preparation for the landings, plus you’ll find a sauna steam bath, fitness room, whirlpool and small swimming pool. Some Germans like a dip in the winter. Snorkeling and cycling is on offer when appropriate.

The Hanseatic at anchor in Antarctica. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes: Helicopter pad. Hull is given the highest passenger classification – E-4.

Along the Same Lines

The passenger mix is unusual, as most high-end expedition lines draw mainly English-speaking passengers, unless the line is entirely focused on a European language.

Contact

Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises, C/O Kartagener Associates Inc., 14 Penn Plaza, Suite 2223, New York, NY 10122; www.Hl-cruises.com, 877-445-7447 or 800-334-2724 (USA/Canada); Free Phone United Kingdom: 08000 513829. — TWS

Ira Meyer for One Ocean Expeditions

One Ocean Expeditions

Founded in 2007, One Ocean Expeditions operates expedition-style voyages to the Canadian Arctic, Eastern Canada, Greenland, and Svalbard in the summer and to the Antarctic Peninsula, Falklands, and South Georgia in the Northern Hemisphere winter/Southern Hemisphere summer. Between seasons, itineraries will visit Central America and the Chilean coast.

The two similar ships take less than 100 passengers, hence for Antarctica, all passengers may go ashore at one time rather than in relays with larger ships, a major plus. The newly-added RESOLUTE is an expedition cruise ship taking 184. Based in British Columbia, Canada, this smallish firm sets out to provide a serious appreciation of the Arctic and Antarctica using a three-ship fleet with the AKADEMIK pair originally built as oceanographic research vessels.

NOTE:

In late May 2019, the expedition line announced that the Russians had abruptly cancelled the charters for the AKADEMIK pair, and that One Ocean would operate for the foreseeable future with the RESOLUTE, a fine expedition ship that had sailed for Hapag Lloyd as the HANSEATIC. 

In late October, 2019, in a Facebook post, One Ocean Expeditions Managing Director Andrew Prossin said that the withdrawal of the two ships by their Russian owners was an “unexpected and destabilizing event, and the violation of our contract remains the subject of ongoing legal action.” 

Then in November, the line shut down its operations and cancelled all future sailings. 

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

AKADEMIK IOFFE built 1989, 96 passengers; AKADEMIK SERGEY VAVILOV built 1988, 92 passengers (both ships returned to the Russian owners). In November 2018, the former Hapag-Lloyd HANSEATIC joined the fleet. Renamed RCGS (Royal Canadian Geographic Society) RESOLUTE, the ship was originally built in 1993 and sailed for many years for Hapag Lloyd as the HANSEATIC. She takes up to 184 passengers.

AKADEMIK SERGEI VAVLOV

AKADEMIK SERGEI VAVLOV. * Photo: Mark Carwardine, One Ocean Expeditions

Passenger Decks

Both AKADEMIK ships are four deckers and have no elevator. They were built in Finland with ice-strengthened hulls for the Russians to be used as oceanographic research ships and for intelligence gathering. RESOLUTE was purpose built as an expedition ship with a high standard of accommodations and elevators that connect all decks apart from the presentation theater on the lowest deck.

Passenger Profile

Mostly English-speaking, passengers hail from Canada, the U.S., U.K., and Australia. Excursions often have decidedly active content so the age range is a bit lower than with some other lines.

Price

$ to $$$ (Eastern Canada itineraries are the least expensive). On polar region voyages, triple-berth cabins provide more affordability for those traveling on a budget.

Itineraries

June to September, the ships are based in the Arctic Region for 9-to 11-night voyages to Svalbard, Greenland, the Canadian Arctic (Inuit/Baffin Island) and a section of the Northwest Passage. 7- to 12-night mid-summer cruises explore Eastern Canada, that is the Maritime Provinces of Newfoundland, Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Anticosti Island and Nova Scotia.

The Southern Hemisphere season is unusually long, beginning in October and lasting into March. Voyages last from 10 nights for the Antarctic Peninsula to longer ones up to 18 nights that call in at the Falklands and South Georgia as well as Antarctica. In between seasons, the ships will offer Central America (Yucatan, Belize, Honduras, Panama (including canal transit), Costa Rica and Cartagena (Colombia).

Sailing down South America’s west coast calls are made in Chile with transit along its spectacular inside passage to the tip of South America. In addition, the RESOLUTE makes June 7- and 11-night visits to Ireland, Northern Ireland, many parts of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Faroes and Iceland.

Cruising amongst the ice, One Ocean Expeditions

Cruising amongst the ice. * Photo: Ira Meyer, One Ocean Expeditions

Included Features

Expedition gear is the main inclusion and saves passengers having to lug bulky items from home and/or having to purchase them. Provided are wind- and waterproof jackets, bib pants, rubber boots, backpacks, binoculars, and trekking poles. Antarctic overnight camping is an activity on some itineraries, while sea kayaking is an extra cost and requires advance reservations.

Why Go?

Both polar regions offer outstandingly beautiful landscapes, glaciers, fjords (Arctic) and abundant wildlife on land, in the sea and air. In the Arctic, visit isolated villages, and on the Antarctic Peninsula, tour a research station. In the Falklands, visit British colonials and local birdlife in the remote Southern Hemisphere, and for South Georgia, the island provides more birds to see than anywhere else in the world. Learning about historical expedition voyages from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are also draws, and will be a contrast to yours!

Bridge, One Ocean Expeditons

The ship’s bridge provides another passenger gathering place. * Photo: One Ocean Expeditions

When to Go?

Both polar regions are summer seasonal itineraries. In Antarctica, the shoulder seasons — October and November and March — will be closer to the winter season.

Cabins

Both AKADEMIK ships offer a wide variety of all-outside cabins with windows or portholes, and some can be opened. Layouts can be quite unusual as these ships were built for research, and the original “passengers” lived aboard for long periods of time. The larger cabins have work desks, a sofa, and ample wardrobe space. A few are two-room suites.

As one looks at the lower-priced cabins, many will have private facilities, and some will share with an adjacent cabin, while others share showers, baths and toilets along the corridor. A shared two-berth cabin arrangement, without supplement, can be arranged for single passengers; if a second passenger does not book the available berth, you land it solo. For those on a budget, the least expensive route is to book a berth in a triple, one of which is an upper.

RESOLUTE’S cabins are of a high standard, all outside and arranged on four decks. Two categories of suites have large picture windows, bathroom with shower and tub bath, two singles or double beds, sectional lounge with a large desk, iPad, mini stereo, coffee maker, stocked mini-bar and a collection of fauna and flora books. Superior plus and Superior cabins have the sectional lounge and desk and minibar; twin private cabins  the sectional lounge and desk. The lowest category, main deck triple, has a double or twin beds with a Pullman berth that folds out from the wall, sectional lounge and portholes.

AKADEMIK accommodations.

The larger AKADEMIK cabins were built for scientists living aboard for many months. * Photo:: Ronald Visser, One Ocean Expeditions

Public Rooms

Both AKADEMIK ships are similar in size with slight variations in layout of the public spaces, and have a small pool and sauna. IOFFE has a small library separate from the lounge, and both vessels have good observation decks fore and aft. Top decks provide 360-degree views.

RESOLUTE’s plan has the public rooms located aft with a main dining room seating all at once, an aft-facing bar-lounge one deck up, and bistro dining and lounge with an open deck aft for dining in good weather. The highest passenger deck provides for an outdoor pool, gym, solarium, sauna/steam room and wellness center. Forward is an observation deck.

Dining

Located on the lowest passenger deck, the seating is open for all meals with buffet breakfast and lunch, hot dishes to order, and three-course dinners. Fancy preparation or gourmet-sounding menus are not part of the package. Food might be best described as satisfying, hearty fare, given the distance from food markets.

Activities & Entertainment

Off the ship, Zodiacs are used for cruising with the expedition staff close to shore, to inspect ice formations, and to approach penguins and other wildlife that live in the sea, on land or on the ice. Zodiacs also ferry passengers ashore. Activities are walking to wildlife colonies, hiking further afield, and for purposes of photography, to exercise some of the skills that the workshops aboard home in on.

During non-polar cruises, activities will additionally include stand-up paddle boarding, cycling, and snorkeling.  The naturalist staff — biologists, naturalists, adventurers, historians, and photographers give talks and shows videos. Additional activities are sea kayaking, ski touring, snowshoeing and camping overnight  Fitness and yoga classes are also scheduled. The navigation bridge is open most of the time for passenger visitation and becomes an additional public space.

Following a whale, One Ocean Expeditions

` Following a whale. * Photo: Ira Meyer, One Ocean Expeditions

Special Notes

All three ships have triple-berth cabins with shared facilities, so expeditions are a more affordable option for those on a budget. The brochure maps are especially well designed.

Along the Same Lines

Numerous expedition lines reviewed on this site visit much the same regions.

Contact

USA & Canada (toll free) – 1 855 416 2326; Canada local — 604 390 4900; UK, Europe and the rest of the world — 0351 962 721 836; Australia (toll free)— 1300 368 123 or +61 2 9119 2228; voyages@oneoceanexpeditions.com & oneoceanexpeditions.com.

— TWS

Read QuirkyCruise contributor Judi Cohen’s article about her One Ocean Expedition adventure.

 

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Richard photographing a breaching whale in Antarctica. * Photo: Kristin Braisted

Heidi and Ted posed more questions to polar expedition guide Richard White, an expert who has spent years at the ends of the earth as a guide, educator and wildlife lover. Currently Richard works for EYOS, a purveyor of luxury yacht cruises to the world’s most coveted and remote places. In the past he’s also guided for Lindblad Expeditions. Richard’s an excellent photographer as well; click here for a sampling of his Antarctica photos. Read Part 1 of our Q & A with Richard.

Connect with Richard on instagram @richthebirder or richard@eyos-expeditions.com.

 

QC: Tourism is your bread and butter (and ours too), but do you have reservations sometimes about too many people ruining the world’s pristine places?

Richard: I don’t worry about people ruining the world’s pristine places. That happened long before I was born. I don’t believe that any part of the world that I have been to is pristine.

For example, those of us visiting Antarctica will never know what the Southern Ocean looked like before commercial whaling wiped out the vast majority of large whales in the region. Numbers have recovered, and we get some great whale watching opportunities during our trips, but it is only a shadow of what was once there and certainly not pristine.

But I do worry about the loss of wilderness, but that is another question and a longer and more difficult answer.

 

Richard photographing a breaching whale in Antarctica. * Photo: Kristin Braisted

Richard photographing a diving whale in Antarctica. * Photo: Kristin Braisted

 

QC: How do you justify tourism?

Richard:  I didn’t know that I had to justify tourism. It was around before I started working in the industry and will be there long after I retire (or die, whichever comes first). And if I stopped working in the industry because there was some part of it that made me unhappy, the industry would not grind to a halt.

I do think it is important that people are given the rare and special opportunity to experience wilderness areas at least once in their lifetime; and the polar regions offer that chance on a grand scale. The experience of wilderness changes people. It makes us aware of our insignificance in the bigger picture. And at the same time, I hope the experience will help people to appreciate and value such places, and that the remaining wilderness areas should be protected.

That would be my justification for introducing people to the polar regions through tourism.

 

QC: If you come across a passenger who  likes to go off on his/her own when ashore, how do you deal with this if it’s not allowed at a particular landing?

Richard: If it is not allowed, then it is not allowed. I don’t bend rules for individuals. If there is an option, I might choose not to make that landing. But if there is no option, then it simply needs to be a conversation that explains the circumstances of that location and the reason why no solo wandering is allowed.

 

A lone visitor exploring Neko Harbour in Antarctica. * Photo: Richard White

A lone visitor exploring Neko Harbour in Antarctica. * Photo: Richard White

 

QC: And if it is permitted to go off one’s own, do you have a set of guidelines or safety warnings depending on the animal life or ice and snow conditions at a particular site?

Richard: Yes. On a site-by-site, day-by-day basis. And it will also depend on the person. As you can understand, it is complicated.

 

QC: Are there new landing sites in Antarctica that you would suggest to add to an itinerary that would offer something different, and to avoid crowding at exiting popular landings?

Richard: Every Expedition Leader has “new” or “alternative” landing sites in mind. This is not just about avoiding crowding, but may also provide added diversity of experience whether in terms of landscape or wildlife.

These sites also serve their purpose when primary sites may be blocked by ice, or blown out by weather.

In some cases we might like to think of these as “secret,” or known only to a few. But in reality, there is little out there that is not known by the wider community.

But there are good reasons that existing landings are popular, and as an industry we need to be able to share access to these and “play well together.” Until now this has generally worked well, but it is likely to be a greater challenge in the future.

 

Orne Harbour Antarctica. * Photo: Richard White

Orne Harbour Antarctica. * Photo: Richard White

 

QC: What are some of your non-technical guidelines when photographing the wildlife — i.e. creating interesting still photographs?

Richard: The simplest and I think the best, is to get down to the same level as the subject, i.e. shoot penguins at eye level, not just the top of their heads.

And second do not always aim for close up portrait shots — go wide. Try to place the subject in the environment. It is not as easy, but very satisfying when it works well.

Curious Adelie penguin. * Photo: Richard White

Curious Adelie penguin. * Photo: Richard White

 

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author.  All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Richard White

Heidi posed some questions to polar expedition expert Richard White, who has spent years at the ends of the earth as a guide, educator and wildlife lover. Richard works for EYOS, a purveyor of luxury yacht cruises to the world’s most coveted and remote places. In the past he’s also guided for Lindblad Expeditions. Richard’s an excellent photographer as well; click here for his Antarctica photo essay. Read Part 2 of our Q&A with Richard.

Connect with him on instagram @richthebirder or richard@eyos-expeditions.com.

 

QC: Do you have a favorite part of the poles?

Richard: The sub-Antarctic islands — whether places like South Georgia or the islands to the south of New Zealand. There is more biological diversity in those regions, and as wildlife is my main interest, diversity will always be a draw. It’s a perfect day if you get lucky with a great wildlife encounter or great weather and beautiful light.

They are also less visited than the Antarctic Peninsula, so that is an added attraction.

 

QC: What still makes you gasp in wonder?

Richard: A killer whale surfacing next to a Zodiac…

Killer whale surfaces next to zodiac driven by Richard. * Photo: Sean Todd

Killer whale surfaces next to zodiac driven by Richard. * Photo: Sean Todd

QC: How many trips have you taken to Antarctica?

Richard: I have never kept a count of how may trips I have done. In part because there is no simple way to measure. For example, how does a six-week research voyage compare with four 10-day trips? Or five weeks with eight people on a 20-metre sailboat compare with 10 days on a 200-passenger vessel?

All I can tell you is that my first trip was in 1998 as a researcher, my first as a guide in 2003, and I have missed two seasons since 1998.

So probably more than 25…

 

QC: If you have one golden message for small ship cruise passengers in Antarctica, what is it?

Richard: The one golden message is go. Don’t debate whether it is worth it, just go. And go for as long as you can afford (both in financial and temporal terms), and on as small a vessel as you will feel comfortable.

And then when you are there, seek out your own moments and your own experience. You will be with others, some of whom will be strangers, in close proximity, for days, maybe weeks. But don’t just accept their experience or the shared experience. Make the effort to find some personal space, or with a partner, and try to hold that moment and take in the scale of what you are experiencing.

Gentoo penguins nesting at Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. * Photo: Richard White

Gentoo penguins nesting at Neko Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula. * Photo: Richard White

QC: Do you get stir crazy if you’re “home” for more than a month or two?

Richard: No. It is a holiday, I can do my own thing, why would I go crazy? And assuming I can get out and walk in some kind of green space, or open space, then I can be happy anywhere.

 

Rafflesia plant. * Photo: Richard White

Rafflesia plant. * Photo: Richard White

QC: What’s packing like for you? You must be expert by now.

Richard: Packing is easy, yes. A few items of favourite tried and tested gear. And so much relies on an efficient laundry system on board.

 

QC: Can you imagine not traveling and guiding? Do you want to do it until you can’t physically handle it?

Richard: I don’t have a retirement package, so I guess I will die in the saddle…

 

QC: “Who” is your favorite kind of passenger? Least favorite?

Richard: There is no simple answer to this, but I will try.

Favourite — engaged. And then the opposite end of that spectrum. Everyone finds their own level of engagement, so it is not that one approach is “right” or “wrong.”  I guess another way to answer would be “happy” and “grumpy.”  But some people are happy when grumpy, it is their “normal.”

 

QC: After working for a few months straight, do you want to hide from people?

Richard: It really depends on the people. See above.

 

QC: How many airline miles do you have?

Richard: Not as many as you might think. I might only fly six times a year with work if I work three times, two-month contracts each time.

 

QC: If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be?

Richard: Probably living on an island studying seabirds. And I have a passion for island restoration programmes — getting rid of non-native species to restore island ecology. It can be very effective conservation work, although not cheap. We are all hoping that South Georgia has been cleared of rats through recent efforts by the South Georgia Heritage Trust — this would be a huge result.

Stork-billed Kingfisher in the Hindhede Nature Park. *Photo: Richard White

Stork-billed Kingfisher in the Hindhede Nature Park. *Photo: Richard White

QC: Besides your college degree, do you have other certifications?

Richard: I have qualifications as a Zodiac driver and in gun handling and first aid.

They are necessary — it is getting harder to find work without the relevant pieces of paper. One of the challenges the industry faces as it grows is finding new talent. Qualifications are one way, but should never replace relevant experience. But it is easy to get caught in a classic Catch 22 where you cannot get one without the other.

 

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author.  All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

By Anne Kalosh.

This story was first posted by Anne in Seatrade Cruise News and is reproduced by permission of Seatrade; click here for the full original article.

Similar to the river cruise business several years ago, the expedition cruise sector is on the cusp of a building boom that will fuel tremendous growth, according to Capt. Ben Lyons, CEO of Expedition Voyage Consultants.

Sven Lindblad, CEO of Lindblad Expeditions — whose father Lars-Eric was the first to take tourists to Antarctica and the Galápagos half a century ago — expressed mixed feelings about that growth in a keynote address at the “Expedition/Adventure Cruising & the Polar Code” session at Seatrade Cruise Global in March 2017.

Seatrade Expedition photo by AK

Top: Keynoter Sven Lindblad expresses mixed feelings about growth. Bottom, from left: Ponant’s Navin Sawhney, Lindblad, Capt. Ben Lyons, Hurtigruten’s Daniel Skjeldam, Foreship’s Markus Aarnio * Photos: Anne Kalosh

On one hand, opening expeditions to more people helps them “become smarter, learn more and become more relevant as human beings.” With all the challenges facing the planet — it’s “a mess,” Lindblad said — exposing more travelers to the world “in a thoughtful way is good.”

But with the spike in expedition newbuilds arriving in 2019 in particular — an unprecedented eight ships, including one for his own company — Lindblad worries the places they’ll visit can only handle a certain number of people.

“We want to grow but we want to be careful we don’t overwhelm these regions,” he said. “If you take 600 people to a coral atoll, you are not conducting an expedition.”

The glut of 2019 newbuilds means it likely will become necessary to restrict landings in Antarctica. “Everyone will have a lesser experience. That’s a fact,” Lindblad said. The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators is talking about changing its guidelines to allow one landing per day instead of two, “So there is a downside to growth.”

Another concern is that operators may lack the training and skill to safely conduct expeditions. “Experience matters a great deal when you’re operating in polar regions under tough, tough, tough conditions,” Lindblad said. “We are going to have a lot of stress on human capital.”

Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam, whose company is building a pair of 530-passenger ships, rejected the notion of limiting size to the traditional 200 or fewer travelers — except in the Northwest Passage, where he spoke out against Crystal Serenity’s voyages for concern that an accident could overwhelm small communities there.

But Skjeldam doesn’t think tourism should be halted in the Arctic, either: “Brussels forgets people live in the Arctic, in Svalbard, northern Norway and Alaska. They need a livelihood.”

Hurtigruten, which mounted its first explorer cruise to Svalbard in 1896 and whose crews are seasoned in polar waters, is calling for a ban on [ships using or carrying] heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Arctic and urging the industry to lead the way on tougher regulations, like those that apply to Antarctica.

The European Parliament backs the HFO ban. “I would love to see IMO be part of this, to bring the regulations forward, to bring the technology forward,” Skjeldam said.

He called Antarctica the most regulated region on earth; HFO can’t be used or carried there, and ships that make landings are capped at 500 passengers, with landings themselves limited to 200 people at any one time.

Hurtigruten’s newbuilds will pioneer cruising’s use of fuel cells to cut air emissions and provide silent running for stints in especially sensitive areas.

“The future is electric,” Skjeldam told the Seatrade audience, which included a number of ship captains. He added it’s important to purpose-build for polar waters.

Hurtigruten’s pioneering hybrid system, debuting on 2018’s new ship Roald Amundsen, will “take the industry forward. It’s the most technologically advanced ship that will be out there,” Skjeldam said. “This industry needs to find new technology that significantly reduces emissions.”

For its part, fast-growing Ponant — with four expedition ships under construction — has a 25-year history and was founded by a sailor who still runs the show, noted Navin Sawhney, CEO, Americas, Ponant Cultural Cruises and Expeditions.

Those 184-passenger newbuilds are more compact than the ones Ponant currently operates (the largest carrying 240 passengers), to give more flexibility and access to places like the Great Lakes, where its existing ships are too big.

Sawhney argued expedition cruising is fundamentally different from traditional cruising.

Having a bucket list is fine, he said, “but expeditions are not about bucket lists. There is a big difference. Antarctica is an ecosystem. You have to enjoy it respectfully. Expeditions are truly about learning and discovery and being in an environment where you can reflect.”

It’s the difference between sightseeing and “sightbeing,” as Sawhney put it.

He also thinks there’s a limit to the number of like-minded guests a ship can carry, and “the idea is to transform yourself, not to transform the environment.”… “Size matters. Purpose and mission matter. [The goal is to] come back changed, not just checking off a bucket list.”

Lindblad agreed. On the size issue, his company’s largest ship carries just 148 passengers. Part of that is for concern about big ships “commoditizing a place. I don’t think everything should be available to everybody,” Lindblad said.

And part, he admitted, comes down to aesthetics. “People want to be in wild places,” and a big ship shatters that notion.

“You can’t have an intimate connection to a place [with hundreds of others around you]. You may as well watch a video.”

Skjeldam pointed out the economics of bigger ships enable more people to take part in expeditions and come back as ambassadors for the environment.

Hurtigruten’s recent Antarctica season deployed the 400-passenger Midnatsol and, according to him, that worked well. The ship used purpose-built inflatable boats — not Zodiacs — for landings, and they were equipped with battery packs for silent sailing.

Passenger count, of course, impacts operating income in a business with very tough economics on top of the operational complexity. Small ships have to charge a lot to be profitable, and many companies have failed.

But Sawhney observed that driving up industry capacity eats into profits. Alaska in the 1980s earned some of cruising’s highest per diems. “Back then,” he said, “the per diem price was the cost of a cruise today.”

Session moderator Lyons questioned if the luxury ships being built will change the demographics.

Lindblad wasn’t sure the public is driving this demand: “The expedition traveler is mostly concerned about the experience. They want to hike in the tundra, kayak in the wilderness. They’re not asking for 400- or 500- square-foot cabins.”

At Hurtigruten, the new ships are positioned as providing a “comfortable base camp.”

“The luxury is in the experience,” Skjeldam said. “Operators building for luxury could be a short-term thing.” If the focus is on luxury, “some of the uniqueness will disappear.”

“I wouldn’t be in a tuxedo in Antarctica,” he added.

The panel agreed today’s consumers crave immersive experiences — not sitting over a drink, watching the scenery, but being on land, and active.

Citing the global demand for immersive experiences, Skjeldam thinks adventure travel and travel will merge in decades to come.

And expedition cruising won’t be limited to cold, remote places. Ponant is expanding in tropical and subtropical regions, Lindblad crafts expeditions in western Europe that provide deep immersion into gastronomy and history, and experiencing local life is at the core of Hurtigruten’s coastal voyages, where travelers can even take part in sourcing local foods for the ships.

As far as newbuilds pushing out older ships in the expedition sector, it depends on the company and its market.

“There are people who like older ships,” Lindblad said. “We’re on a very aggressive newbuild program. We’ll continue to operate a combination of old and newer ships. Do we worry about that? Not so much. We’ll deploy them differently.” [And older paid-for ships can charge lower fares.]

Skjeldam agreed ships’ age is less relevant than in traditional cruising, however newbuilds bring innovative technology, reduced emissions and greater safety.

 

© Copyright 2017 Seatrade UBM (UK) Ltd. Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Seatrade UBM (UK) Ltd.

Read more about Antarctica small ship cruising here.