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ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Arctic vs Antarctic

By Ted Scull.

If you are in a quandary over booking an expedition cruise to the Arctic or Antarctic, here are some thoughts about both polar destinations based on a half dozen trips to the two regions.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Ted is about to embark on an expedition cruise around Svalbard in search of polar bears.

Cruises generally take place in June, July and August for destinations above the Arctic Circle.

While cruises to Antarctica have a wider window, November into February. The bracketed end months will be colder, and so lower rates will be in effect.

The geography of the two is vastly different, and they vary substantially in wildlife seen, scenery, excursions, and naturally the seasons.

However, many who visit Antarctica will be pleased how the daytime temperatures and conditions ashore can be most comfortable. Discomfort may come in the open seas between the tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula.

The Antarctic vs Arctic 

Antarctic cruises, the simpler of the two to explain, visit the continent of the same name, and most itineraries embark from a port (usually Ushuaia, Argentina) near the southern tip of South America. The ship heads south to cross seas known as the Drake Passage for a visit the Antarctic Peninsula, a land mass that juts north of the actual Antarctic Circle.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Expedition ship hovers alongside a huge Iceberg in Antarctic Sound. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Longer and more expensive itineraries venture south of the official circular line only at the height of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer season when navigation through the ice permits a safe passage.

While the area visited seems relatively large, it is far more compact than with Arctic cruises.

Overview: The Arctic

The Arctic is a region above the Arctic Circle and not a continent. Its span across the Northern Hemisphere is remarkably long. A few itineraries visit an area that begins in remote northern Russia (Franz Josef Land) and slides west to northern Finland, Sweden and Norway — all attached to the European continent.

After that it’s islands. The main ones are Spitzbergen, the largest part of Svalbard (a Norwegian possession), and Greenland (a self-governing Danish possession) above the Arctic Circle.

Iceland falls almost entirely just below the Arctic Circle, with just a tiny northern tip officially within the region. And because the island is included in many Arctic itineraries, it will be included here.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

This polar bear ambled nearly two miles across the ice to check us out. * Photo: Ted Scull

West of Greenland, the Arctic Circle slices across Canada and encompasses the northern sections of Nunavut Territory, officially created in January 2000, from roughly the eastern half of the North West Territories, then continues across the NWT, Yukon Territory and Alaska into the Bering Sea with Siberian Russia on the opposite side.

Much of the northern Canadian portion is made up of islands, and the main channel through the archipelago is the famed Northwest Passage. A few Arctic itineraries enter this passage via Lancaster Sound to call at Inuit communities on Baffin and Devon islands. The full-length passage is for another day, and its high cost makes it available to so few.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Kayakers amongst the ice. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

The land within the Arctic region has seasonal snow and ice cover and is mainly treeless permafrost and tundra. Ice is present seasonally and may close the passage to navigation in winter.

Some expedition ships with substantial power to achieve a high level of icebreaking capabilities can reach the geographic North Pole during a relatively brief period of the northern summer.

Arctic Cruise map

One of the typical Arctic expedition routes. * Map: Poseidon Expeditions

Overview: Antarctica

Antarctica contains the geographic South Pole and the continent, almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle, is surrounded by the Southern Ocean. The continent is almost the twice the size of Australia and has a minuscule resident population. Various national-flag research stations house several thousand souls with a seasonal variation. Some itineraries include visits.

Nearly 98 percent is covered by a thick ice cap apart the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula, the area most visited on cruises.

The continent, on average, qualifies as coldest, driest, and windiest continent and has the highest average elevation with most of its expanse a polar desert with low precipitation on its edges and almost none inland.

An outstanding fact is that 80% of the world’s freshwater resides there. If all of it melted, sea levels would rise 100 feet.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Easing up to a couple of icebergs. * Photo: Ted Scull

Unknown until the start of the 19th century and not stepped onto until the end of the century, Antarctica was not considered important because it lacked valuable resources.

Antarctica may be the best-known destination of the two, identifiable by its clear-air beauty, bird life, including ever-popular penguin species, toothy walrus, elephant seals, whales and, of course, humongous icebergs, some the size of small states.

Right off the bat, one has to honestly say that Arctic wildlife takes second place to the starkly beautiful landscape, iceberg-choked fjords, Inuit culture and the fascinating history of the search for the elusive Northwest Passage.

Its Arctic opposite is generally much less understood, but no less fascinating, and many of the same ships trade to both regions.

Polar expedition-style cruises have taken off in the last decade, and the people who are attracted to them bring aboard wide-ranging interests and expectations, most having little connection to today’s mainstream cruising.

Antarctic map

Antarctica. * Map: Lindblad Expeditions

RELATED:  An Antarctic Expedition with A&K and Ponant.  by John Roberts

 Arctic vs Antarctic — A Comparison

  ARCTIC – Svalbard, Iceland, Greenland, Canadian Arctic ANTARCTICA
Season June, July & August Nov, Dec, Jan & February
Weather Mostly above freezing in the summer up to 60Fs on land. Wind makes it feel colder, possible rough sea days Freezing levels up to the 40Fs. Beautiful clear blue-sky days; gray days; possible rough weather crossing Drake Passage
Wildlife Birds, polar bears, seals, walrus, whales Birds (especially albatross), several species of penguins, seals, walrus, whales
Overall Scenery Ice & some snow, fjords, glaciers (Greenland), rugged terrain, tundra, wildflowers, some forests Ice & snow covers Antarctica, except northern portion of Antarctic Peninsula in summer months. Massive-to-minuscule floating and rooted ice formations
Landscape Highlights Glaciers, iceberg-choked fjords, geysers (Iceland), Northern Lights, spring flowers on some landscapes Giant icebergs (some colors), ice calving, rugged ice fields
Culture Inuit and European communities & culture, fishing villages, ancient ruins, former whaling stations Remnants of past explorers (ie Shackleton) & abandoned research stations; today’s research stations (possible visits); Falklands — villages, farms
Cruising Challenges Possible rough seas, windy conditions Drake Passage sea conditions, cold if windy

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Cruising the Arctic Region

Much of the experiential content here comes from four separate expedition cruises, all on small ships. The first section is based on two 10-day cruises in August to Greenland and the Canadian Arctic.

Greenland

From the air, Greenland, the world’s largest island, appears as a dark forbidding landscape of stony mountains incised by deep blue fjords that carries the eye inland to a snow-covered white cap stretching to the far horizon.

The four-hour flight From Ottawa, Canada’s capital, set down on a gravel runway alongside the Sondre Stromfjord, a long arm of the sea slicing deeply into Greenland’s West Coast. School buses hauled us to a deep-water landing where Zodiacs sped out to the anchored ship, ready to sail because of a rapidly falling tide.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Southern Greenland from the air in summer. * Photo: Ted Scull

Sailing up the West Coast of Greenland, with a high following sea, we first anchored off the fishing port of Illulissat boasting populations of 6,000 people and 60,000 sled dogs. We walked through the brightly painted town, its wooden houses painted blue-gray, deep green, maroon, red and mustard, passing yapping sled dogs straining at their leads and impatiently waiting for winter when they would again go seal hunting.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Colorful villages help brighten the rugged and sometimes bleak landscape of West Greenland. * Photo: Ted Scull

Jakobshavn Glacier

The main attraction here is the Jakobshavn Glacier, the world’s fastest moving ice flow, advancing 65 feet per day and calving a new berg every five minutes. Upon hearing the characteristic crack and thunder, eyes quickly sought the spot where falling ice would send up fountains of spray and ripples across the water.

Chances were pretty good, according to one of the naturalists, that the prolific Jakobshavn Glacier spawned the infamous iceberg that cruised south with the cold Labrador Current to sink the Titanic.

The Island of Umanaq

While the first day had been damp and drizzly, the second dawned crystal clear as the ship dropped anchor off Umanaq, a small island town nestled at the base of two impressive granite peaks.

Zodiacs headed over to the mainland shore for a climb up a spongy slope, carpeted with Arctic cotton and heather, blue harebells, Labrador Tea and wintergreen, to a hillside cave where well-preserved 500-year-mummies of seven women, two boys and an infant had been discovered. Several are now on display in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital city museum.

Most passengers stayed as long as time allowed to take in the magnificent view, white bergs drifting on a blue sea under blues skies flecked with white clouds and rimmed by snowcapped mountains, one closely resembling Japan’s Mt. Fuji.

Reboarding the ship, we moved closer to Umanaq and went ashore to visit the colorful fishing port with its wooden Lutheran church, original log and sod houses and hotel terrace with a million-dollar view and pricey Arctic beers.

Some time ago, a succession of calving bergs just outside the port sent destructive waves sweeping into the harbor and overturning dozens of boats and smashing docks. A local resident caught the high drama in a video shown in the town’s gift shop, and surprisingly no one was killed.

Baffin Bay

During the 24-hour passage across Baffin Bay, we passed close to huge tabular bergs marching south with the strong current, behind which rose a coastal mountain range draped with a half-dozen glaciers feeding into the sea. We then made several landings on Baffin Island, a major component of the Inuit territory of Nunavut that was hived off from the vast Northwest Territories at the end of the last century.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Last call in West Greenland before crossing the Baffin Sea to the Canadian Arctic. * Photo: Ted Scull

We walked the beach at Pond Inlet accompanied by a Scottish-born guide who had spent 29 years in the Arctic, first as a Presbyterian missionary and now a cultural historian and naturalist. We encountered a freshly killed ringed seal and poked around a Thule encampment dating from sometime between AD 900 and 1700, people who were direct ancestors of the present-day Inuit.

Milne Inlet

Cruising Milne Inlet one evening, a pod of narwhals spouted and surfaced, and we kept them in view while the staff grilled steak, sausage, wahoo and caribou ribs for an outdoor meal consumed under the coldest conditions that I have ever experienced. However, the barbecue served as a good primer for what the 19th-century expeditions had encountered when searching for the Northwest Passage extending across the top of Canada.

Beechey Island

On the desolate shores of Beechey Island, three graves marked the site where members of John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 expedition had met their ends, and as we would learn, they may have been the lucky ones, for the rest of the party died an agonizing death of lead poisoning from cans containing preserved meat. Hundreds of empty tins scattered nearby eventually led researchers to uncover the trail of death.

Devon Island

Landing on Devon Island, the largest uninhabited island in the world, we encountered our first sight of a polar bear and cub, walrus lounging on bergy bits and the bloodied ice where a ringed seal had been recently killed. The closest approach turned out to be a musk ox, a bedraggled looking beast with two layers of fur that pawed the tundra when someone moved in too closely.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

A polar contemplates his next move. * Photo: Ted Scull

Narsarsuaq

The second itinerary got into high gear as not a half hour after we sailed from Narsarsuaq in southern Greenland, we were donning rubber boots for our first wet landing by Zodiac to visit the ruins of the settlement Erik the Red established in 983 AD and the present-day sheep farm.

We explored the foundations of the first Christian church in the New World, had a look into an existing pretty wooden church with a slate blue interior and chatted with some villagers seated outside their homes painted in red, yellow and mustard, enjoying the end of a pleasant long summer day.

Davis Strait

During the choppy passage across Davis Strait, we approached a large pod of spouting fin whales and enjoyed close-up views of their cavorting. At dinner one evening while anchored in a fjord off Baffin Island, a polar bear and her two cubs came down to the water’s edge and began swimming out to the ship, bringing everyone out on deck. With poor eyesight but an especially keen sense of smell — in this instance our grilled salmon steaks —the three came within a hundred yards before turning back to shore and loping off to find another source of food.

On outings ashore, we divided into groups according the length of the hikes, and in polar bear country, our guides carried powerful shot guns and radios. Angelika, arctic white and yellow poppies, blue harebells, cotton grass, mosses, lichen, and one-inch high polar forests of birch, juniper and willow formed the colorful and often spongy tundra underfoot.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Caribou antlers from the Canadian Arctic. * Photo: Ted Scull

We had distant sightings of caribou sporting their huge racks, but more often we were satisfied by the physical beauty of the wild untouched landscape in temperatures that ranged from the mid 40s to the mid 60s.

The Zodiac trips brought us close to a half dozen polar bears one morning, to an island inhabited with lounging walrus, another with ring-neck seals and a steep cliff face where tens of thousands of guillemots waited for their young to make a first flight.

Inuit Villages

Two visits to isolated Inuit villages, Lake Harbour and Cape Dorset, gave us an insight to traditions of bone, marble and soap stone carving, gymnastics and the unusual sight and sound of two women engaged in throat singing.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Inuit mother & child, Lake Harbour, Nunavut. * Photo: Ted Scull

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Intricate carving on display in a Canadian Arctic cultural center. * Photo: Ted Scull

At Cape Dorset we were greeted by a handsome Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman wearing his formal dress uniform. After posing for photographs, he pointed the way to the Hudson Bay Company store where we could see what was available for the local Inuit to buy in the way of food and clothing.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman posses for a snap. * Photo: Ted Scull

Northern Lights

In the middle of one night, the expedition leader woke us up to witness a pulsating display of Northern Lights and most, wrapped in woollies, happily responded. On another night, we slowed to pass through two thick lines of pack ice, and during the day we encountered the wonderful shapes and colors of icebergs drifting south.

Svalbard

These recollections come from a seven-day expedition cruise from Longyearbyen, the main settlement.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Svalbard from the air. * Photo: Ted Scull

Polar Bears          

Liking ice and when a polar bear was spotted, the captain edged his ship as far into the flows as he felt comfortable in doing. These bears are curious creatures, and on two occasions they slowly ambled toward the ship, and with everyone on deck in the silent mode, they came right up beneath the bow, close enough to photograph with little magnification.

The rapid clicks of shutter releases sounded like a presidential press conference.

On another occasion, a large male had killed a ringed seal. After he was satiated, he moved off to take a nap while his off-spring moved in and vied with sibling growls for what remained. Birds strutted impatiently at a safe distance.

The largest number seen at one time totaled nine bears, taking turns at pulling apart the remains of a whale. One mother entered the fray by swimming across the inlet with her club clinging to her back.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Two polar bears fight over the remains of a whale. * Photo: Ted Scull

Excursions on land took place where no bears had been spotted, and even then the naturalist staff took precautions, and every party ashore was accompanied by a staffer with a rifle, happily rarely, if ever, used.

Hikes across the tundra or snowfields were offered as challenging, moderate and easy, with a fourth category for photographers.

Two-person kayaks were available on three of the seven days, often in addition to Zodiac excursions. It was fun circling the ship and inspecting ice that had calved off glaciers.

Ashore we found reindeer herds, walrus sprawled together, others frolicking just off the beach, whale bones, tiny delicate tundra flowers and the stone foundations of trapper’s huts and whaling camps. Early 17th-century whaling was close to shore and then as the herds were decimated, the whalers had to go further afield until the practice was banned by most countries, but not Norway or Japan.

One island’s rocky cliffs provided nesting spots for thousands of little auks while hundreds of others flew around the ship, bobbed on the water and went fishing, a raucous yet highly organized scene.

Near the end of the week, we headed to locations where whales are often found and came close to both fin whales and blue whales, the largest mammals on earth. None breached but their slow arcing movements through the water at close range revealed their immense size.

RELATED:   Svalbard Overview: Exploring the High Arctic.  by Ted Scull

Iceland

The account is based on a 14-day cruise in July that circumnavigated Iceland and called in at the Faroes and Orkney.

As those with a good geographical sense might already know, Iceland could have easily been named Greenland and Greenland, Iceland.

I say “could” rather than “should” as not all Iceland is green by any stretch, but except for one remote section there is very little ice.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Akureyri Falls, Iceland. * Photo: Ted Scull

During over visit, large swaths of open landscape were covered with wildflowers in yellows, blues, purples and reds. At the height of summer, sheep and lambs outnumber Icelanders by three to one, and 85 per cent of the houses in Reykjavik, the capital, are heated and supplied with hot water directly from thermal springs.

Our political lecturer gave us an insight into how fiercely independent the Icelanders are, that is beyond the Cod Wars with Britain. In 1918, with a war raging in Europe, the Danish colony took the opportunity to pass a referendum for a first step to independence, then in 1944 while the Nazis occupied Denmark, Iceland, then under British and American protection, declared complete autonomy!

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Almannagia Rift, Iceland. * Photo: Ted Scull

At three ports in Iceland — Akureyri, Isafjord and Reykjavik — we visited a traditional fishing village meeting some of the local folk, fish still being the country’s largest export. We walked through a deep mid-Atlantic rift that marks the continental divide between Europe and America, skirted boiling mud pools, watched geysers erupt and enjoyed the gentle nature of the towns where we went ashore.

RELATED:  Iceland Circumnavigation with Windstar.  by Sarah Greaves Gabbadon

The Faroes Islands

The Faroes, still Danish, showed a softer but no less dramatic landscape with its mountain, valley and cliffside scenery. The government center in Torshavn was quaintly housed in 19th-century wooden buildings situated atop a largely residential promontory jutting into the harbor.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Thorshavn, capital of the Faroes, Danish island dependency. * Photo: Ted Scull

Shetland Islands

Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands, located well north of the Scottish mainland, is a charming stone town to walk through with Iron Age and Viking ruins not far away.

We chose a boat trip to the island of Mousa, where its 2,000-year-old broch or fortress is the country’s best preserved, a towering stone cylinder some forty feet high where early setters lived with considerable protection from their enemies and the forces of nature. We also enjoyed a two-mile walk around the island to see the nesting guillemots, basking gray seals and those adorable Shetland ponies.

➣Cruising Antarctica

This account is based on a 10-day cruise from Ushuaia in January.

Upon opening a reference book on Antarctica, the very first paragraph indicates that the white continent qualifies as the coldest, driest, windiest, and iciest land mass in the world, and the surrounding Southern Ocean whips up into the stormiest seas.

Antarctica sounded like a prime destination for the masochist. Yet once I stepped ashore there, a completely different set of superlatives came to mind.

The continent is the most pristine and least populated place on earth, and an international treaty signed in 1959 aims to keep it that way. Antarctica’s wildlife is the tamest and least fearful of humankind as in the Galapagos. Its scenery, seen through the clearest air, presents a breathtaking combination of majestic mountains draped by massive glaciers and rugged islands spread across a seascape peppered with icebergs longer than a football field and taller than our ship.

RELATED: Affordable Antarctica, Relatively Speaking.

The Falklands

After two choppy nights and a day at sea, we made landfall off the Falklands — the British islands invaded by Argentina in 1982, precipitating a nasty war. Wearing rubber boots and parkas provided by the ship, we made our first wet Zodiac landing at a private sheep farm cum nature preserve to visit a cliffside rookery of nesting rockhopper penguins, black-browed albatross, and blue-eyed cormorants.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

A rockhopper penguin in the Falkands. * Photo: Ted Scull

On approach, the sounds were more akin to a barnyard of domestic animals than a colony of birds, and with it came the strong odor of guano. Seated on a nearby rock, we watched a well-ordered line of two-foot-high penguins literally hop their way up the steep path from the beach, bellies full of fish and krill (shrimp-like crustacean) for regurgitating into the mouths of their fluffy chicks.

A school of playful dolphins accompanied our second landing, followed by a three-mile walk in bright sunshine through a hillside colony of burrowing Magellanic penguins and across sloping fields of a working farm to the main house for a proper English high tea.

A visit to Port Stanley provided a sleepy bit of old England transferred to the South Atlantic. We visited an eccentric museum packed with historic and natural history exhibits, the world’s most southerly Anglican cathedral, a safe harbor refuge for battered sailing ships, and a handmade woolen sweater shop looked after by local women with an English accent all their own.

We were taken on a personal tour by a sixth generation Falkland Islander who described the Argentinian invasion and evacuation to his grandparents’ farm and showed us the scars of war that included vast off-limit areas of unexploded plastic bombs.

Drake Passage

During the 48-hour crossing of the Drake Passage, a naturalist helped us spot Wilson’s storm petrels, Antarctic terns, and the huge wandering albatross boasting a wingspan of up to nine feet. By the end of the cruise, the bird list would grow to 62 species, but those expecting to see many whales were disappointed by infrequent sightings, generally the spout or tail of the whale.

Antarctic Peninsula Landings

Our first landing on the Antarctic Peninsula had to be aborted because of winds, and instead the captain deftly maneuvered his ship among the ice fields to anchor off volcanic Paulet Island, home to about 200,000 smelly Adelie penguins.

With nearly 24 hours of daylight, we went ashore after dinner.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Elephant oozing rotundity. * Photo: Ted Scull

In brilliant sunshine, low-lying Half Moon Island provided a rocky setting for several colonies of chinstrap (made by a black line of feathers) penguins, Weddell and fur seals in the shadow of 4,000- to 6,000-foot glacier-covered mountains. The temperature rose into the 50’s and remained above freezing every day.

While I was walking alone over a stony beach, a brown skua (predatory bird) flew toward me at a height of about three feet. The bird grazed my outstretched arm, and turning for another attack, the skua hit the piece of driftwood that I grabbed for protection.

Spotting a nearby nest, I quickly retreated out of harm’s way after a third close call. One of the naturalists later said that without protection. the skua might have taken a chunk out of me.

RELATED: Read more about Ted’s skua scare here …. 

Deception Island

In the afternoon, we cruised into the drowned caldera of Deception Island, where we explored the eerie ruins of a whaling station and a British research base, quickly abandoned in 1969 at the onset of a volcanic eruption. Steam and the smell of sulfur rose through the black sand.

Continuing south, we circled a towering conical iceberg estimated to be 250 feet high and later sailed between two tabular bergs measuring thousands of feet in length and generating their own strong winds.

A few weeks after we returned to the US, the newspapers carried reports of an iceberg the size of Rhode Island breaking off into the Weddell Sea. Near a tiny Argentinian base, Zodiacs took us into Paradise Bay, ringed by ragged glaciers, pockmarked with blue ice grottoes, that occasionally calved with a sharp crack.

an ice flow

Breaking through the ice in the Arctic. * Photo: AdventureSmith Explorations

Faraday Research Station

By carrying Her Majesty’s Mail from Port Stanley, we gained permission to call at Faraday research station, a 20-person British base located in a sea of rocky islands and broken ice and cut off for nine months of the year. The base commander boarded for a talk about the greenhouse effect and ozone layer depletion, both phenomena causing world-wide concern.

He also reported that while the ice cap is breaking off at the edges at an increasing rate, it is thickening as snow and ice form in the center. He then accompanied us on a wet and windy ride ashore to inspect the scientific facilities and living quarters. Today the base is run by the Ukrainians.

Two more landings added the sight and far worse smell of a colony of molting young elephant seals, one estimated to weigh 4,000 pounds, a gentoo penguin rookery, and a Russian research station, where we off-loaded three tons of equipment and embarked two German scientists.

Drake Passage Again

Northbound, the dreaded Drake Passage lived up to its well-deserved reputation, as during the night moderate 20-foot waves grew to 50 feet, sending everything not tied down crashing to the floor. By late morning the storm abated, and the visit to Cape Horn was so tranquil that one almost forgot the night before and began questioning the truth about the legendary Cape Horners battling monstrous seas for days on end.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Pounding across the Drake Passage. * Photo: Ted Scull

To the east one looked into the South Atlantic in the direction of South Africa, and to the west across the Pacific to Australia. South was the white continent. Cape Horn, an island, was covered in a mantle of wild flowers. The setting was so lovely that we hesitated to re-embark, because doing so meant the cruise was nearing an end.

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Landing at Cape Horn, the most southerly point in South America. * Photo: Ted Scull

Re-entering the Beagle Channel, we sailed overnight and docked at Ushuaia on the 12th morning. Passengers either flew directly home or stopped over in Buenos Aires, a favorite city of mine for its turn-of the-century architecture, street life, restaurants and cafes, and stylish residents.

RELATED:  Exploring Antarctica on a Russian Research Vessel.  by Judi Cohen

South Georgia Option

Located southeast of the Falklands, a diversion to South Georgia, a British dependency, before heading to the Antarctic Peninsula, will add five days to the itineraries and naturally generate a higher fare.

The attractions are numerous as the island is home to large king penguin, fur seal and elephant seal colonies, nesting grounds for wandering albatross, and a former whaling station where the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton is buried and an island history museum.

Arctic vs Antarctic: Who Goes There?

Except where noted, all of these small-ship lines explore both the Arctic and Antarctica regions. Note, it looks like lines will not be cruising in the Arctic this summer, 2020, due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. Lines are hoping to get back to the Antarctic for the 2020-21 season, let’s see.

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations

Abercrombie & Kent

Albatros Expeditions

Aurora Expeditions

Crystal Expedition Cruises  (Arctic only)

Grand Circle

Hapag-Lloyd

Hurtigruten

Lindblad Expeditions

Oceanwide

Overseas Adventure Travel

Polar Latitudes (Arctic only)

Ponant

Poseidon Expeditions

Quark Expeditions

Scenic

Seabourn Expeditions

Silversea Expeditions

Vantage World Travel

Viking (beginning 2022)

Vantage World

Windstar (Arctic only)

Zegrahm Expeditioins

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Ban Heavy Fuel Oil would help to mitigate icebergs blackened by soot

AECO Lines Voluntarily Ban Heavy Fuel Oil

By Anne Kalosh.

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) has just approved a self-imposed ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) there.

The current practice among the association’s members is to refrain from using HFO when sailing in the Arctic. This has now been formalized as a mandatory guideline.

AECO was an early signatory of the Arctic Commitment, which calls for a phase out of polluting HFO from Arctic shipping.

The AECO encourages the Ban Heavy Fuel Oil

.

Sending a Message

According to AECO Executive Director Frigg Jørgensen, the HFO ban enjoys broad support among the association’s members.

“AECO represents the great majority of operators that offer expedition cruising in the Arctic. By formalizing this ban, the expedition cruise industry is sending a message to decision-makers that it is time to act to protect the Arctic from the risk of HFO pollution,” she said.

Ban Heavy Fuel Oil to improve health and air of local communties

Arctic communities’ health can be impacted by air emissions from ships while livelihoods could be threatened by an oil spill. Here, Lofoten. * Photo: ©TRphotos, courtesy of Hurtigruten

Why is HFO so Bad?

HFO, the tar-like sludge that’s left over from the crude oil refining process, is bad news for the environment and human health. Exhaust from HFO includes sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Scientific studies have linked these pollutants to asthma attacks, heart and lung diseases, and birth defects.

Yet HFO is the standard fuel used by ships because it typically costs 30 percent less than cleaner-burning distillate fuels.

But the Tide is Turning

International, regional and even local regulators are tackling harmful air emissions from ships. The International Maritime Organization, part of the United Nations, has mandated that from Jan. 1, the global sulfur cap in marine fuels will decrease to 0.5 percent. Ships will be allowed to continue using HFO provided they are equipped with exhaust gas cleaning systems, or scrubbers, that remove sulfur oxides from emissions.

In addition, the sulfur limit is already lower, 0.1 percent, in special emission control areas — currently, around parts of the coastline of North America, in the U.S. Caribbean, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. The European Union Sulfur Directive enforces a 0.1 percent limit in EU ports. And the California Air Resources Board requires ships to adhere to a 0.1 percent sulfur cap within 24 nautical miles of the coast.

Banned in Antarctica, but not the Arctic

The use of HFO is banned in Antarctica, but not in the Arctic. As AECO’s action demonstrates, a campaign is building to change that.

For one thing, people live in the Arctic, so human health is a consideration. In addition, because of HFO’s viscosity, it is much harder to clean up after a spill, and it can be toxic to fish, seabirds and marine mammals. So a spill might decimate a community’s fishing grounds, or harm endangered animals like polar bears and whales.

As well, when large exhaust particles like black carbon (soot) get deposited on snow and ice, instead of reflecting the sun’s radiation, they absorb it, leading to more warming and melting.

Ban Heavy Fuel Oil would help to mitigate icebergs blackened by soot

AECO has imposed a formal ban on the use and carriage of HFO in the Arctic. * Photo: AECO

Hurtigruten Speaks Out

AECO member Hurtigruten, based in Norway, has been a vocal proponent for banning HFO altogether.

“At the same time as shipping increases in the Arctic areas, the emissions do, too. But polluting fuels like heavy fuel oil are still not banned in these vulnerable areas,” Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam said.

“Hurtigruten banned heavy fuel oil a decade ago and is working for a global ban.”

Hurtigruten ships have not used heavy fuel oil in years

Hurtigruten ships have not used HFO for years. * Photo: Hurtigruten

Meanwhile, Hurtigruten wants HFO out of the entire Arctic and along the Norwegian coast. “It makes no sense,” Skjeldam said, “to create more pollution and increase the risk of spills and destruction in areas that need to be protected.”

A decade ago Hurtigruten enacted a Ban Heavy Fuel Oil

‘Hurtigruten banned heavy fuel oil a decade ago and is working for a global ban,’ CEO Daniel Skjeldam said. * Photo: Hurtigruten

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises Takes Action

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises stopped using HFO in the Arctic of its own volition in 1993 and only uses marine gas oil (MGO) with a maximum sulfur content of 0.1 percent. The company has announced it will use only MGO with no more than 0.1 percent sulfur on its entire fleet (not just its expedition ships) wherever it operates, from July 2020.

Besides Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and Hurtigruten, AECO members include Aurora Expeditions, G Adventures, Lindblad Expeditions, Oceanwide Expeditions, Origo Expeditions, Quark Expeditions, PolarQuest, 69 Nord, Silversea, Tall Ship Company, Albatros Expeditions, and Hanse Explorer. Members also include Grands Espaces, Abercrombie & Kent, Poseidon Expeditions, Algol Océans, Noble Caledonia, EYOS Expeditions, Seabourn, Boreal Yachting, Aztec Lady, Ponant, Adventure Canada, Zegrahm Expeditions, The World Residences at Sea, and Viking.

Provisional members include Natural World Safaris, Scenic Cruises, Arctic Explorer, Mystic Cruises, Cape Race Corp., Heritage Expeditions, Crystal Expedition Cruises and Cookson Adventures.

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Oceanwide Expeditions new Hondius

Arctic Cruise.

By William J. Mayes, Editor of Sea Lines, The Ocean Liner Society (UK).

Oceanwide Expeditions, a company that has been providing expedition cruises on its own converted ships or on chartered ships for 25 years, finally got its first new ship in May 2019. Appropriately, the maiden voyage of this Dutch company’s new ship, Hondius, started in Vlissingen, in The Netherlands.

Hondius, named after the 16th-century Flemish engraver and cartographer, is the world’s first cruise ship to be built to the new Polar Class 6 specification, designed to withstand exposure to medium first year ice in summer and autumn.

Oceanwide Expeditions new Hondius

Hondius, new expedition ship for Oceanwide Expeditions. * Photo: Oceanwide Expeditions

Joining the Ship in Scotland

On this Arctic cruise, which I joined in Aberdeen, Scotland, we encountered and dealt with ice up to four feet thick, often pushing it out of the way, but just as often by driving straight through it in a spectacular fashion.

Wildlife spotting is a prime activity, and the chart outside the lounge listed all sorts of water and airborne creatures seen (but most of them not by me).

Hondius is not a luxurious ship by any stretch of the imagination, but the basic facilities serve their purpose well. There are faults in the design of the ship, which I will highlight later, but these did not detract from what was a very rewarding experience.

In full expedition mode Hondius carries 170 passengers, serviced by a crew numbering 70, including 14 expedition staff. All meals are taken in the dining room on Deck 4, from breakfast at 7.30 (wake-up call at 7.00 — not possible to switch off), lunch at 12.30 and dinner at 19.00. There is no other option.

Dining, Drinks & Inspecting the Ship

Both breakfast and lunch are served buffet style. If you are going ashore for a full day, to trek up mountains or along glaciers, then you need to make your own packed lunch at breakfast, supplemented with a bar of chocolate from the reception desk just forward of the dining room.

The reception area is where passengers first see the interior of the ship as the gangway on embarkation day is on the open deck, just outside. This deck has high sills and storm doors to protect the inside of the ship from water ingress. There is also a small shop in the reception area.

Forward of this is a block of cabins. Opposite the reception desk is a rather utilitarian staircase linking Decks 3 through 8. There is no lift.

The remainder of the public rooms are on Deck 5. Forward is the large observation lounge with its bar and, perhaps more importantly, the coffee machines. Coffees, teas and typically Dutch packet soup are available 24-hours-a-day. There is usually a decent supply of biscuits to accompany them — all free of charge.

Drink prices in the bar are slanted towards those who prefer alcohol; soft drinks are quite expensive and alcohol is relatively cheap (can of Coke is $3.40 USD vs $3.75 for Aquavit).

The main lounge of Oceanwide Expeditions Hondius

The main lounge. * Photo: William J. Mayes

Lectures & Recaps

Most of the lectures take place in the lounge, where the sight-lines are not good because the floor is level. Two foldaway screens at the front of the room are supplemented with a number of television screens, but even so it is sometimes difficult to see details during the talks.

Each evening there is a recap in the lounge covering the day’s events and a preview of what is planned for the following day. I say planned because this is expedition cruising and things often change depending on weather conditions and wildlife sightings. Adjacent to the lounge, and within easy reach of the coffee machines, is a small library. As the ship had been a few days late in being delivered, this was not yet fully stocked.

The only other public room is the lecture room, with fairly limited seating. Some of the more esoteric lectures take place here, and in the evening, there might be a film. It won’t be a blockbuster, but is more likely to feature wildlife conservation, geography, geology or volcanology.

Boarding partway through the voyage (20 passengers joined in Aberdeen) some of our mandatory lectures were held here, including the general emergency drill, which included instructions on how to don an immersion suit and the Zodiac safety talk, including the dress code for Zodiacs. After our talk it was time to go to the boot room to be measured for the compulsory boots. No boots — no Zodiac landings, and all on this trip were to be wet landings.

The lecture room is also home to the ship’s Internet centre, where wi-fi is available throughout the ship at a price. Packages are available to purchase, starting at $30 for 100MB. A more sensible option is to opt for a ship’s email address at a cost of $18 for unlimited emails without attachments for the duration of the trip. The price varies according to the length of the cruise and seems to work even when Internet satellite coverage is not available.

First Landing at Fair Isle

After leaving Aberdeen the first call of our Arctic cruise was Fair Isle, that sparsely populated island that lies between the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands, and actually part of the latter. Here the most difficult landing beach seemed to have been chosen, presumably to assess our capabilities while still within reach of shore-based medical facilities.

Landing at Fair Isle on an Arctic Cruise with Oceanwide Expeditions

Landing at Fair Isle. * Photo: William J. Mayes

Fully kitted up with boots, waterproof trousers, jacket and life vest we proceeded backwards down the incredibly steep gangway to join the Zodiacs. The ship is fitted with Zodiac embarkation doors on the deck below, but apparently these were not working. Best not to open them if you were not sure that you could close them again.

Fair Isle in the rain is not my idea of a good time, so after suggesting to one of the expedition leaders (I think she was vegetarian) some good uses of mint sauce and redcurrant jelly in conjunction with the freely roaming sheep, we went back to the ship.

Lucky Landing at Jan Mayen

There followed two quite rough sea days as we headed north, across the Arctic Circle to Jan Mayen, a remote Norwegian outpost some 370 miles to the north east of Iceland. The swell was too great to permit safe landing at our planned anchorage, so we sailed to the west side of the island and made our way ashore in the shadow of the magnificent Beerenberg volcano. Now things started to improve.

It was a much easier landing here and a couple of hours were spent on the black volcanic beach examining relics and collecting plastic waste. The station commander from the Norwegian base came and stamped our passports. I wonder how many people in the whole world have that stamp. Hondius was the tenth ship of the season scheduled to call here, but in fact was only the third to have made it due to adverse sea conditions.

Leaving Jan Mayen, we sailed north along the coast, past some imposing glaciers, before leaving land behind us as we headed towards the Greenland pack ice. We encountered ice at around lunch time on the next day, so the lecture programme was postponed to allow uninterrupted searching for wildlife. I saw quite a few seals as we skirted the edge of ice. We were not going into the ice today as it would slow the ship and put us behind schedule.

Heading into the Ice

When we were woken up at 7:30am the following morning Hondius was about to go into the ice, so after a hasty breakfast it was time to go out onto the fore deck in the freezing cold to see what was going on.

This deck is accessible right up to the bow and as we started to hit the ice the sound was amazing, not just as we hit but also as the large slabs of ice scraped their way down the sides of the ship. This was a real test of the ship’s construction.

Moving through the ice on an Arctic cruise with Oceanwide Expeditions.

Heading into the ice. * Photo: William J. Mayes

We remained in the ice all day, only coming out into open water late in the evening to allow a quiet night for sleeping.

Oceanwide Expeditions operates an open-bridge policy, so passengers are welcome on the bridge at any time, unless the ship is manoeuvring in port. Our Russian Captain, Alexey, was very welcoming, and it was clearly giving him a great deal of satisfaction in driving his new and untested ship through quite thick first-year pack ice on this inaugural Arctic cruise.

Open bridge on brand new Hondius

Hondius has an open bridge policy. * Photo: William J. Mayes

On the next day we were back in the ice early. Someone had put a wanted notice with a picture of a polar bear on the main notice board outside the lounge. There was enough evidence of their presence from the footprints in the snow that covered the ice. We were not disappointed.

Polar Bear Sighting

In mid-morning someone spotted the slightly yellow bear on a piece of ice about half a mile away. It didn’t seem to notice us at first and carried on going about its business and having an occasional roll in the snow. Then it spotted us, and I’m sure its first thought was ‘well, I haven’t seen that before,’ followed by ‘canned food, at least that will be a change from seal.’

Polar bear out on the ice at Spitsbergen. * Photo: Ted Scull

I had thought that ice was the highlight, but I think that seeing a polar bear in the wild probably topped that. Soon afterwards someone had added the word “another” to the polar bear wanted notice.

We sailed overnight to Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard Archipelago, and made two calls before heading to our destination at Longyearbyen. Our first stop was to see walruses at Poolepynten on the island of Prins Karls Forland, just to east of Spitsbergen. The second stop was to get up close to the glacier at Ymerbukta. In the late afternoon we sailed towards Longyearbyen and the end of our Arctic cruise adventure.

Hondius off Longyearbyn on its inaugural Arctic cruise

Hondius off Longyearbyen. * Photo: William J. Mayes

The Passengers & Staff

This cruise, starting in The Netherlands, had a large contingent of Dutch passengers, maybe as many as 75%. There were a few British, fewer Americans and a handful of other Europeans. The food was mostly International, but with a heavy Dutch bias, particularly at breakfast.

The cost of this trip was something of a bargain compared to the ship’s regular prices, due in part, no doubt to the fact that it was a positioning voyage to get Hondius in place for her first summer. Another factor could relate to maiden voyages and ice!

Hondius was built at Split in Croatia and has a gross tonnage of 6,603. The builders clearly wanted passengers to know who had built the ship, as there were probably 10 or 12 builder’s plates around the vessel.

On our voyage there were 150 passengers and the ship seemed uncrowded. She has a capacity for 196, although she is marketed with a limit of 170 in a variety of accommodations ranging from a berth in a shared four-berth cabin, to three-berth and two-bed standard cabins. There are several more luxurious cabins on Decks 6 and 7, including six suites with balconies.

Twin cabin aboard the Hondius

Twin cabin 407 on Deck 4. * Photo: William J. Mayes

The expedition staff, under a Dutch leader, was European, with several British members.  The remainder of the crew were an international mix under the Russian captain, and Dutch hotel manager.

Conclusion

Would I do it again? I don’t think that I would. Why? Well, not because our Arctic cruise wasn’t a great experience, because clearly it was; it might be difficult to equal the trip. Probably price would be a big influence as expedition cruises on small ships are generally very expensive. Mainly, I suppose there are so many ships out there that I would like to try and have only so much time and money.

 

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Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling

Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling

By Anne Kalosh.

The seas are awash in plastic. Chances are, if you’re an expedition-cruise “type,” you’re more environmentally aware and eager to do your part to combat this scourge.

The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) has just issued new guidelines for visitors to the north. These supplement steps that AECO’s 30 member lines are taking to reduce single-use plastics on their ships and to involve travelers in beach cleanups that remove tons of marine litter each year.

Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling

Here’s a sorry sight — polar bears munching on plastic waste. * Photo: Kevin Morgans for AECO

AECO notes that travelers on Arctic expeditions will visit remote areas with limited waste management facilities. Depending on the location, waste may go into local landfills or be compacted and shipped elsewhere for treatment.

To cut the amount of waste small communities need to process and to cut plastic litter, AECO suggests travelers prepare before trips to take reusable items then, during travel, avoid disposable items and responsibly dispose of waste. Upon returning home, travelers can continue their plastic-reduction efforts under the “Reduce, reuse, recycle” principle.

AECO’s tips don’t just apply to the Arctic. Try following these guidelines wherever you go and when you’re at home, to be part of the solution to plastic pollution.

Here are the guidelines, which also can be found on AECO’s site (click here).

Before Traveling
  • Travel with reusable items such as water bottle, coffee cup, reusable bag, reusable cutlery, etc. that you can bring home with you.
  • Consider bringing a reusable waterproof bag to protect your camera from the elements.
  • When packing toiletries, choose eco-friendly alternatives such as cosmetics free of microbeads.
  • Choose products with non-plastic packaging such as soap and shampoo bars. Your accommodation may also be equipped with refillable dispensers. If you need to use plastic bottles and containers, use reusable ones.
  • Synthetic clothing sheds small plastic fibers. We recognize that it may not be possible to entirely stop using synthetic clothing, but reducing the amount we use is a great first goal.
When Traveling
  • When possible, avoid using disposable cups, straws, bottles, food containers and other items.
  • Do not throw any non-organic items in the toilet, including wet wipes.
  • Make sure all your belongings are well secured when ashore or on deck. A moment of inattention and a gust of wind can easily blow light bags and other items away.
  • Enquire about local environmental initiatives and how you can reduce your plastic footprint to support the community you visit.
  • Talk to other travelers and staff — not everyone has the same experience and knowledge, so it is a good opportunity to learn from and inspire others.
Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling

Be part of the pollution solution. * Photo: AECO

Continue at Home

Reduce: By consuming less and using reusable items you can help reduce the total amount of waste.

Reuse: Extend the life of your belongings. If you no longer need it, give it away.

Recycle: Learn about the cycle of your waste at home and sort out your waste accordingly to maximize the chances of material recovery.

As well, AECO notes that in areas where waste facilities are limited, most items are treated as general waste. Products labeled “degradable” or “biodegradable” will degrade faster than regular plastic items, but may still contain fossil fuels, thus creating microplastic particles.

To effectively reduce waste, AECO advises avoiding these alternatives and choosing reusable items instead.

AECO says please help keep these items out of nature …. 

Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling

Keep these items out of nature. * Source: AECO

 

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Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

Quirky’s Heidi Sarna had an e-chat with Graham Charles, president of the Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA), a US-based non-profit industry association servicing the standards and competency needs of polar tourism operators, field staff and guides across all platforms of polar tourism. We first spoke to Graham when he started the PTGA nearly two years ago (article here), and below is an update of the PTGA’s progress and initiatives.

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

PTGA President Graham Charles enjoying some time out of the office in his own polar back yard. * Photo: Jerry Johnson

QuirkyCruise: Since we last spoke in Sept 2017, I see a few more lines have come onboard as members of PTGA, including Polar Latitudes, Antarctica21, Silversea Expeditions and Aurora Expeditions. Do you expect more to join?

PTGA President Graham Charles: We have had a number of companies express interest and seek further detailed information. These companies are clearly looking to the future and see that transparent accountability to guide minimum competency is impossible to ignore. Clients, insurance and authorizing bodies will soon demand it.

QuirkyCruise: What feedback have you gotten from the industry? What have you learned in the past 2 years since you started PTGA?

PTGA President Graham Charles: Feedback has been exceptional. We have now moved into a phase of active assessment of guides. Our “Workplace Based Assessment” model is working in the always changing and time demanding environment of expedition cruising and polar tourism operations.

We are constantly evolving as we create this platform in a space that has never had one. We listen to the needs of our Corporate Members, we make change. We listen to our growing pool of Assessors, we make change. We look at ourselves at Board level and make change.

The PTGA achieved ISO (International Organization for Standardization) status last year after a rigorous audit of our material and this lends undeniable credibility to what we are doing and how we are going about it. We are in the final stages of our legal acceptance at the federal level (we have state exemption) for tax exemption and to be federally recognized as a Professional Industry Association. This doesn’t impact our stakeholders much, but shows we are serious about our presence in all aspects of administration of the Association.

We have had our annual “Qualifications Review” and are about to draft a raft of changes to our “Qualifications Framework” to reflect a year’s worth of trial and development of our assessment tools. 

Our “Recognition of Current Competency” grandparenting scheme finished in October last year with a rush of applications. A number of senior guides are asking that we consider opening this gateway again for a limited time. We are still clearing the backlog of applications and will give it consideration once this is done. We learned that polar guides are spectacular procrastinators (no surprise really) and will respond in the dying seconds of an offer.

Further, we have hired a social media manager to create a stronger social media presence and we’re also running the Polar Guides Group Facebook page.

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

Senior Polar Guide Cam Walker leads a group on a snowshoe adventure on the Antarctic Peninsula. * Photo: Chris Prudden

QuirkyCruise: For those lines who haven’t joined yet, what is the reason?

PTGA President Graham Charles: I don’t see any theme in the reason people haven’t joined yet. The reasons are as varied as the number of people out there. Some of it is education and awareness — some people say they have never heard of us even after 2.5 years and now some good traction in the social media space. Others are procrastinating and waiting to see what happens. All this is common with something new like the PTGA.

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

A young guide practices navigation skills in Svalbard. * Photo: Graham Charles

QuirkyCruise: Do you work with the Expedition Guide Academy (EGA) and Ben Jackson?

PTGA President Graham Charles: Yes we work with the EGA. Ben is an assessor and Senior Guide with the PTGA. And a number of their courses on offer work to PTGA competency levels and EGA can also offer assessments and legitimately administer our qualifications.

The PTGA isn’t a training organization, we are the testing body. To this end we encourage providers like the EGA so that when we get emails from guides looking to upskill in a particular area or get assessed in a particular qualification, we have quality providers to send them to.

It’s a great initiative. 

PTGA president Graham Charles teaches a class in Leadership theory and Teaming for A21 staff. Photog: Mariano Curiel

PTGA president Graham Charles teaches a class in “Leadership Theory and Teaming” for A21 staff. * Photo: Mariano Curiel

QuirkyCruise: Has the Polar Tourism Qualifications (PTQ) framework changed?

PTGA President Graham Charles: We have published our draft “Polar Bear Environments” award and have a couple more awards in development. This award offers a lot to northern polar guiding in light of events in Svalbard last season and questions that were asked about minimum levels of training and competency for guides working in polar bear environments. Our other awards are also more relevant to the north polar regions and terrestrial based operators.

Our team has recently reviewed everything about the framework, and amendments will be published by the end of May.

Polar Tourism Guides Association (PTGA) Update

A guide gives a briefing after landing on fast ice. * Photo: PTGA

QuirkyCruise: Are there new and more challenges, given the expedition ship building boom is gaining momentum?

PTGA President Graham Charles: One of the fun things about this industry is the change that is going on so yes there are challenges and change going on every day and I personally am vitalized by this. We are our own association and thus are quite “fleet of foot” so we can respond to organically evolving needs much faster than other big industry associations.

 

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QuirkyCruise Review of Ponant

Cruising for over a quarter century, this chic French line is a Francophile’s dream. Ponant’s crew is discreet, the décor is subtle and the food is tantalizing. French desserts, French cheeses and French wines accompany passengers on cruises around the world, from French Polynesia and the Caribbean to the North and South Poles, and lots in between.

Passengers are a well-traveled, well-dressed international lot and the handsome captains stroll around the ship in short sleeves chatting to guests as if they are one of the passengers. Ponant is a bit of Europe no matter where the ships are sailing.

In late 2014, the company’s name was simplified from the French Compagnie du Ponant, to just Ponant, a simpler name for the company’s growing international audience, though Ponant still remains the only French-flagged, French-flavored cruise line out there. Ponant is in the midst of building frenzy, with six 184-passenger expedition vessels in the pipeline between now and 2021. As they are delivered, itineraries will be expanded to offer more frequent sailings and brand-new destinations.

A hybrid electric icebreaker is to appear in 2021 and be able to make it to Geographic 90 Degrees North — The North Pole.

Note: Some sailings are directly operated by Ponant and others are under charter to well-known firms for individual sales as well as for special interest groups.

N.B. In August 2019, Ponant announced that the French-owned line has bought Paul Gauguin Cruises, operating the ship PAUL GAUGUIN in French Polynesia and that the ship will continue to operate under its current name.

Ponant's fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ponant’s fleet hits the poles and lots in between. * Photo: Ponant

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

LE BOREAL (built 2010, 132 passengers), L’AUSTRAL (b. 2011, 132 p), LE SOLEAL (b. 2013, 132 p), LE LYRIAL (b. 2014, 122 p), LE PONANT (b. 1991, 64 p), LE LAPEROUSE (b. 2018, 184 p), LE CHAMPLAIN (b. 2018, 184 p),  LE  BOUGAINVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p) and LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE (b. 2019, 184 p), LE BELLOT (due April 2020, 184p), LE JACQUES CARTIER (due July 2020, 184p), and LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT (due April 2021, 270 p), specifically designed for polar explorations.

Ponant's mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant’s mini cruise ships are dwarfed by the giants. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Passenger Profile

Mostly Europeans, heavy on French, Swiss and Germans, with a sprinkling of Francophiles from everywhere else — North America, Brazil, you name it. Children are welcome, but are expected to be well behaved; there is a children’s menu, Wii gaming console, and when there are a number of kids on board, a few activities are organized by a staff member.

On a handful of special family-friendly sailings per year (often a Med itinerary in the summer), a Kids Club is offered with kids’ counselors supervising games and activities for ages 4+. Several firms charter Ponant ships, so they will determine the languages, and a number of them are in the English-speaking markets.

Passenger Decks

6 with elevators to all decks (4 on LE PONANT, the motor sailing yatch, and no elevator)

Price

$$  Moderate to Expensive

Included Features

Open bar throughout ship, stocked cabin mini-bar, and all soft drinks. New for 2019 is free WiFi in all cabin categories on all ships.

PONANT                                                                                 LE BOUGAINVILLE delivered in 2019 as the third ship in the explorer class. * Photo: Ponant

Itineraries

The ships, with such an expanding fleet, roam all over the world on one- to two-week cruises (some longer): Mediterranean and Northern Europe, Alaska and Canada, Caribbean, Central America, both coasts of South America, West Africa and Southern Africa, Madagascar, Seychelles, French Polynesia and Oceania, Hawaii,  Indonesia, East Asia and focus on Japan, Eastern Russia, Australia and New Zealand, Antarctica, the Arctic including the Northwest Passage, trans0ocean positioning voyages. A few highlights include (and it’s a moveable feast:

  • 10- and 16-night Antarctica cruises November – February
  • Iceland & Arctic Circle cruises in summer; also Northwest Passage, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes
  • 6- and 7-night cruises out of Martinique to the Grenadine Islands in the winter; also Cuba (Cuban calls suspended due to a US government ban.
  • 7-night Croatia cruises round-trip out of Venice between May and September; also Western & Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt
  • 9-night New Zealand cruises in January and February; also Australia’s eastern coast
  • 7- to 13-night Alaska cruises in June and July; including Aleutian Islands
  • 13-night Chile cruises in November and February; also Amazon and Orinoco rivers, Sea of Cortez
  • New tropical destinations are being added to include the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, also Maldives and Madagascar, and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, also French Polynesia, Easter Island
  • South and Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Japan, Eastern Russia.
Why Go?

The French flare, the amazing food, the gorgeous interiors — tres chic. In 2018 Ponant signed an agreement with National Geographic Expeditions to have the latter’s experts and photographers come aboard in Australia, New Zealand and Asia/Pacific.

When to Go?

The fleet cruises in different regions of the world at the best time to visit.

Cabins

LE PONANT is an 88-meter, three-masted sailing ship with lots of wood and nautical touches such as navy blue and white bedding and fabrics in the rooms. Most cabins are on the lowest of the four passenger decks and have twin beds — two rooms have king beds — and there are a few triples. Five larger cabins are higher up on the Antigua Deck.

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL are nearly identical sister ships with the majority of cabins measuring between 200 and 236 square feet, not including the balconies (which all but eight cabins have). Cabins are designed in stylish neutrals of champagne, smoky greys or blues, and crisp whites with pops of color, like a red border on a bed throw or pillow.

All cabins are stocked with L’Occitane toiletries, bathrobes, mini bars and iPods, and a have a great split bathroom set-up — toilet in one little room and a large shower (and/or tub) and sink in another. They also have a desk and great adjustable reading lights on either side of the bed. Many standard cabins can accommodate three people with one on a sofa bed; ideal for families are the Prestige suites, which are ostensibly two connecting standard cabins. There are four large suites on the Deck 6 near the top of the ship.

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

A lovely standard cabin aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Francois Lefebvre

The new 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE (2018), LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER  began arriving in mid-2018 and will continue into 2020. A feature on the new ships is the Blue Eye, an underwater sightseeing lounge. They make up what is termed Ponant Explorer Class with enhanced ice-breaking capabilities.

Public Rooms

LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL have two restaurants, one main entertainment lounge, one combination lounge/bar, and a lovely outdoor bar with sea views. There is no casino. Each has a spa with a Turkish steam room, hair salon, and an excellent ocean-view gym with a row of treadmills and recumbent bikes, plus a Kinesis wall with weights, pulls and grips for weight training.

A small library area (with a Wii console nearby) and a boutique round out the public areas, unless you also count the medical clinic. The smaller LE PONANT has two restaurants, two indoor lounges and lots of deck space for sunbathing. All five of the vessels have a platform for watersports when anchored in favorable conditions.

Dining

Cuisine is a big part of the Ponant experience, and I still sometimes dream about the dark chocolate mousses we devoured on a L’AUSTRAL cruise to Croatia (I gained several solid pounds on that cruise). Each of the five ships has two restaurants, one a more formal fine-dining multi-course French gourmet venue for dinner and the other a casual buffet restaurant with outdoor and indoor seating and themed offerings. Some of the chefs are French (the pastry chef was on my last cruise) and no matter where they are from, they’ve been schooled in the French culinary tradition.

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Desserts to die for. * Photo: Ponant

Meals incorporate fish and grilled seafood, and plenty of delicious soups and salads of all kinds. When possible, local ingredients are used, from cherries in Kotor, Croatia, to rainbow trout from Nunavut, in the Arctic. Amazing desserts on offer might comprise a hazelnut mousse cake, lemon meringue tarts and that to die-to-for chocolate mousse already mentioned; easily the best desserts I’ve ever had on a cruise ship.

A selection of cheeses from France and Italy are a staple in the buffet and of the complimentary wines generously poured, I remember an especially refreshing French rose at lunch on route to our next Croatian port of call. You can always order a bottle off the extensive menu if you want something extra special.

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

The more formal of two restaurants aboard Le Soleal. * Photo: Ponant

Activities & Entertainment

The ships are in port every day, or nearly so, but if there’s a sea day, most people enjoy simply sunbathing by the pool and soaking up the scenery. In the French way of doing things, there isn’t an abundance of scheduled activities or group events. There are theme cruises from time to time focused on gourmet food and wine, film and topics like oceanography, with experts on board giving talks and demonstrations.

Evenings, a singing duo moves around the ship before and after dinner to serenade passengers as they sip cocktails and chat about the day’s adventures and the ones that lay ahead. At the top of the tiered decks at the stern on LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL is a wonderful al-fresco bar, an ideal place to plant yourself as the ship sails off into the sunset — likewise on LE PONANT’s sun deck. After dinner from time to time, a dance performance or film screening may be scheduled in the show lounge of the four sister ships.

The new and larger 184-passenger sisters LE LAPEROUSE, LE CHAMPLAIN,  LE  BOUGAINVILLE, LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE, LE BELLOT, and  LE JACQUES CARTIER started to debut in mid-2018 and continued into 2020, and the larger 270-passenger LE COMMANDANT CHARCOT will launch polar explorations in April 2021.

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Ponant passengers love to be outside on deck. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Along the Same Lines

SeaDream is close.

Contact

Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions, 420 Lexington Avenue, Suite 2838, New York, NY 10170; us.ponant.com, 1-888-400-1082.

— HMS

 

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Expedition Ships for 2019-2022

New Expedition Ships for 2019-2022

By Heidi Sarna & Ted Scull.

The big news in the small-ship world of late are the 25 expedition ships (under 300 passengers) being built or on order. An unprecedented number of cruise lines have been investing time and resources into building small expedition cruise ships to explore hard-to-reach places around the world.

Whether you’re eager to explore the breathtaking glaciers of Iceland, see polar bears in the Arctic or a waddle of adorable penguins in Antarctica, small expedition ships will take you there. In fact, there are many isolated locales where an expedition cruise is really the only way to go: from hopping around the Galapagos Islands to exploring the Polar Regions and isolated corners of Australia or South Pacific islands.

While some are very cushy and luxurious with fancy spas, plush suites and multiple gourmet dining venues, others are more restrained and destination-focused. Either way, expedition vessels are built as transportation for intrepid travelers to reach remote places. Most have ice-strengthened hulls for cruising the Polar Regions, some with extra-strengthening, and most carry Zodiac boats for excursions.

Trends in next-generation expedition cruise vessels focus on high-tech gear to enhance passenger interaction with the environment — think mini-submarines and helicopters. Some have underwater cameras that a diving staff member uses to take high-definition footage of the undersea world around the ship, beaming the video back to passengers on board. Hydrophones, or underwater microphones, used to catch whale sounds are standard equipment on expedition ships. Increasingly, ships carry a ROV, a remotely operated vehicle capable of diving far deeper than a human Scuba diver to view parts of the undersea world you could otherwise only speculate about.

In terms of environmental impact, the newest expedition vessels are being kitted out with hybrid engines fueled by hydrogen and with hull designs that improve fuel efficiency. Read on for more details.

 

2019-2022 SCHEDULE OF NEW EXPEDITION SHIPS UNDER 300 PASSENGERS
CRUISE
LINE
SHIP
NAME
PASSENGER COUNT GROSS TONNAGE DEBUT
DATE
Antarctica XXI Magellan Explorer 100 4,900 Q4 2019
Aurora* Greg Mortimer 180  8,000 May 2019
Celebrity Cruises Celebrity Flora 100 5,739 Q2 2019
Coral Expeditions Coral Adventurer 120 5,000 Q1 2019
Crystal Yacht Expeditions Endeavor 200 25,000 Q4 2019
Hapag-Lloyd Hanseatic Nature 230 15,540 April 2019
Hapag-Lloyd Hanseatic Inspiration 230 15,540 Oct 2019
Lindblad Expeditions Nat. Geo. Endurance 126 12,300 Q1 2020
Lindblad Unnamed Polar Explorer Class 2021
Mystic Cruises World Explorer 200 9,300 May 2019
Mystic Cruises Unnamed 200 9,300 Q1 2020
Oceanwide Expeditions Hondius 180 5,590 Q2 2019
Ponant Le Bougainville 184 10,038 June 2019
Ponant Le Dumont-d’Urville 184 10,038 Sept 2019
Quark Unnamed 200 13,000 2020
Scenic Scenic Eclipse 228 16,500 April 2019
Scenic Scenic Eclipse II 228 13,000 2020
Ponant Le Bellot        184 10,038 April 2020
Ponant Le Jacques Cartier      184 10,038 July 2020
Seabourn Unnamed 264 23,000 Spring 2020
Seabourn Unnamed 264 23,000 Spring 2022
SunStone Unnamed 160 8,000 Sept 2019
SunStone Unnamed 130 8,000 April 2020
SunStone Unnamed 160/180 8,000 Sept 2020
SunStone Unnamed 160/180 8,000 April 2021

*Charter from Sunstone

 

A BRIEF SNAPSHOT OF THE EXPEDITION LINES
ANTARCTICA XXI 

The pioneering company Antarctica XXI is building the MV MAGELLAN EXPLORER for a late 2019 delivery. The company specializes in offering Antarctica expedition air-cruise combos; flying passengers over the stormy Drake Passage to board their small expedition ship directly in Antarctica.

Holding a maximum of 100 passengers, the MV MAGELLAN EXPLORER will have a large, forward-facing observation lounge, a viewing deck, and a dining room that accommodates all guests and expedition staff in a single sitting. Cabins range from 220 to 440 square feet; most have balconies and a handful are dedicated cabins for singles.

The ship will be outfitted with a pair of meeting rooms, protected outdoor barbecue area, sauna and gym. Kayaks and snowshoes are carried on board. It’s being built to the latest Polar Code specifications established by the International Maritime Organization and carries a Polar Class 6 ice-class. For comfortable navigation, the ship will have stabilizers as well as bow and stern thrusters.

New Generation Expedition Ships

A rendering of Antarctica XXI’s Magellan Explorer. * Rendering: Antarctica XXI

CELEBRITY EXPEDITIONS

To debut in mid-2019, Celebrity Cruises is building 100-passenger CELEBRITY FLORA, an all-suite ship with a glass-wrapped observatory and a library dedicated to the Galápagos. A marina at the stern will make it easy to step into Zodiacs for the frequent nature tours — hiking, swimming and snorkeling — that characterize a Galápagos cruise. A staircase leads from the marina to the Sunset Lounge, an outdoor space with a plunge pool. Inside, Darwin’s Cove is the place where passengers can chat with the naturalists who lead tours and give informative talks.

Briefings will be delivered in the Discovery Lounge, where there’s a full bar, stage for entertainment and comfy seating. Besides the Seaside Restaurant, open for all meals, the ship will have a casual alternative, the Ocean Grill, with panoramic views and the opportunity to dine under the stars.

The standard “Sky Suites” measure 330 square feet with an “Infinite Veranda” that has doors that can slide to the side to make the veranda a seamless part of the room. When the doors are closed, creating a separate veranda area, the top of a floor-to-ceiling outside window can be lowered to the open air. The Penthouse Suites, at 1,288 square feet, are the top accommodations. CELEBRITY FLORA’s will have dynamic positioning so there’s no need to drop anchor to keep it in a fixed position at sea and an in-suite water filtration system that should cut or eliminate the use of bottled water, reducing plastic waste.

Celebrity's Custom-Built Galápagos Ship

A bird’s eye view rendering of the Flora. * Photo: Celebrity Cruises


CORAL EXPEDITIONS

Australia-based Coral Expeditions is scheduled to release the new 120-passenger CORAL ADVENTURER in mid-2019 with another sister ship expected to follow after that one. The design will reflect Coral Expeditions’ standard of offering a relaxed and intimate onboard atmosphere. The ship is designed to explore tropical regions including the Kimberley; Cape York and Arnhem Land (the top of Australia); Indonesia’s Papua New Guinea and Spice Islands; and the South Pacific. There are six zodiac boats carried on board plus a pair of trademark Xplorer tenders that comfortably seat all passengers at one go for excursions.

Wow-factor features include multiple indoor and outdoor bars, including the Explorer bar on the sundeck for sunset drinks with 180-degree views. The casual dining area will seat all guests at once and the curated wine cellar features modestly-priced boutique wines for daily drinking and exceptional vintage Australian reds as well.  More than half the cabins will have balconies and there’s also a gym with elliptical trainers and treadmills.

New Expedition Ships for 2019-2022

The new 120-passenger Coral Adventurer. * Rendering: Coral Expeditions

CRYSTAL CRUISES

Crystal Cruises is building the 200-passenger CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR “mega-yacht” for launch in late 2019. Designed for Arctic, Antarctic, and tropical conditions, the megayacht will have a PC6 Polar Class designation for cruising in Polar Regions and also be fitted with state-of-the-art offshore dynamic positioning technology. This means that computer-controlled systems allow the ship to automatically maintain its position with its own propellers and thrusters, so it can float atop coral reefs and historic ship wrecks without using anchors.

CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR’s cool exploration “toys” include capacity for two helicopters and a submarine. Eighteen electric amphibious zodiacs are also part of the entourage, plus kayaks, paddle boards, snorkeling and diving equipment, recompression chamber and dive support tender. There will also be SEABOBs, high-tech underwater scooters for exploring what lurks beneath.

The onboard vibe will be just as over-the-top in terms of amenities, with six dining venues, an observation lounge with 270-degree panoramic views, and a pool whose floor can be lifted to create a dance floor or alfresco dining area. There will be a “Crystal Life” spa, salon and fitness center.  The standard suites will be 400 square feet (including balcony) and all have butler service. Fares are all-inclusive.

New Generation Expedition Ships

Rendering of the Crystal Endeavor. * Rendering: Crystal Cruises

HAPAG-LLOYD CRUISES

The German line Hapag-Lloyd Cruises plans to release two new 230-passenger expedition sister ships — the HANSEATIC NATURE (April 2019) and HANSEATIC INSPIRATION (Oct 2019). The HANSEATIC NATURE will be a German-speaking ship while the HANSEATIC INSPIRATION will be an international ship, with all cruises conducted in both English and German.

Both with have the highest ice class for passenger ships (PC6).

A blend of adventure and comfort, these ships are setting the bar high with three restaurants, two bars, a lounge, ocean-view fitness studio, and an extensive spa with floor-to-ceiling windows and an outdoor area with a Finnish sauna. There is also a hydrotherapy shower and ice fountain, and a hairdressing salon. A pool out on deck can be covered with a retractable roof.

The pair will have 120 cabins and suites, with balconies or French balconies, ranging from 236 square feet for a Panorama Cabin to 764 square feet for a Grand Suite. Both will carry Zodiacs on board for excursions, and ply the waters of the Arctic and Antarctic, as well as the Amazon River and South Pacific.

Expedition Ships for 2019-2022

Rendering of the Hapag-Lloyd’s 2 new expedition ships. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd

LINDBLAD EXPEDITIONS

Lindblad wrote the book on small-ship expedition cruising, when it pioneered Antarctic and Galapagos expeditions a half-century ago. In May 2018, Lindblad introduced the new 100-passenger NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC VENTURE, a sister to the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC QUEST, to Alaska, the Inside Passage and the Pacific Northwest. The new ship will have 22 of 50 cabins with step-out balconies and six sets of connecting cabins for families and groups. There is a Sun Deck Bar and a dedicated mudroom for storing your expedition gear. Guides and naturalists are excellent, and the ship comes equipped with twin expedition landing craft, Zodiacs, kayaks, paddleboards, undersea video camera, hydrophone, glass bottom boat, video microscope, snorkeling gear and a crow’s nest camera. The line has an open bridge policy.

Bigger news is the recent announcement that the line is building its first new ocean-going ice-class polar vessel, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE, for delivery in early 2020. A core design feature of the 126-passenger vessel is the distinctive X-BOW that provides fuel efficiency while significantly improving passenger comfort in rough seas. The X-BOW, designed by Norway’s Ulstein Group, is found on numerous non-passenger vessels, but is just breaking in to the some of cruising’s next-generation expedition ships.

The impressive exploration toys range from kayaks and cross-country skis, to a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), hydrophones, a video microscope, underwater video cameras and a helicopter landing platform. Amenities include two dining venues, multiple observation decks, and suites and cabins include a dozen designated for solo travelers. You’ll find a spa, gym, yoga room and a pair of infinity Jacuzzis. Read more details in a recent QuirkyCruise news piece.

Lindblad Orders New Expedition Ship

A rendering of Lindblad’s polar new build. Look at that dolphin nose-like bow! * Rendering: Lindblad Expeditions

MYSTIC CRUISES

Running on an energy-efficient Rolls Royce hybrid propulsion system, the 200-passenger WORLD EXPLORER was launched by Mystic Cruises in October 2018. This ship is the first vessel in a series of as many as 10 ships in total, with three more réplicas of the WORLD EXPLORER slated for delivery first quarter 2020, 2021 and 2022. Each will have a Bureau Veritas Ice Class 1B rating.

Amenities will include a bow observation deck, theater/lecture hall, main lounge, observation bar, restaurant, library, small casino, fitness room, outdoor pool and jogging track. For the expedition itineraries, the mudroom and lockers for passenger gear will come in handy. Most cabins are 280-square-foot balcony suites, with two dozen “infinity” cabins having a sea-facing glass wall.

The ship is chartered to Quark Expeditions for Antarctica (2019/20) and the rest of the year to Germany’s Nicko Cruises, a company owned by Mystic Invest, for sailings to the Arctic, Norwegian Fjords and Mediterranean.

Expedition Ships for 2019-2022

A rendering of Mystic Cruises’ 200-passenger World Explorer * Rendering: Mystic Cruises

OCEANWIDE EXPEDITIONS

A leading polar cruise company since 1993, Oceanwide Expeditions is building the new 180-passenger HONDIUS to ply the Arctic and Antarctica. Launching in the spring of 2019, it will be rated Polar Class 6. A speedy zodiac embarkation is guaranteed, with two separate gangways and an indoor platform that can be used for outdoor activities such as kayaking. The line’s goal is to offer a comfy, informal atmosphere onboard, with the main focus placed on the nature and wildlife programs and related shore activities, from camping to snowshoeing, and zodiac excursions. Accommodations range from twin cabins and quads, to spacious suites — a total of 14 have balconies.

The propulsion system consists of two medium speed main engines and one adjustable pitch propeller. The environmentally-friendly system, which features a shaft generator instead of a diesel-driven generator, allows the lowest possible fuel consumption and CO2 emission. The vessel will also use biodegradable lubrication oils; certifiably hazardous-free coating and paint; steam for onboard heating; LED interior and exterior lighting (reducing power and fuel needs); and waste heat (such as cooling water for the main engines) reused for the production of fresh water.

Expedition Ships for 2019-2022

The 180-passenger Honidus, to ply the Polar Regions. * Rendering: Oceanwide Cruises

PONANT

French-owned Ponant, known for its sophisticated international atmosphere, is scheduled to release four new 184-passenger “Explorer” sister ships in the span of two years, all named after French explorers: LE LAPEROUSE (2018), LE CHAMPLAIN (2018), LE BOUGAINVILLE (2019), LE DUMONT-D’URVILLE (2019), LE BELLOT (2020) and LE JACQUES CARTIER (2020). The Explorer series will have an Ice Class 1C rating with reinforced hull for polar navigation. Inside, elegant cabins will have private balconies and public rooms are being designed with light woods and lots of blues and beige.

The ships will have cool pools with wake-facing views and also a counter-current system. Each will sport a 188-seat state-of-the-art theatre, sauna with ocean views, and two restaurants. The innovative “Blue Eye” lounge located under the water line will immerse passengers in the undersea world with two porthole windows and three underwater cameras projecting images on big screens.

A stern marina allows easy access to swimming, kayaking, diving and other watersports, as well as Zodiacs for excursions. These vessels will offer cruises to Iceland and the Arctic Circle as well as Norway, the Greek Isles and Indonesia.

New Generation Expedition Ships

A rendering of the stern of Ponant’s new builds. * Rendering: Ponant

SCENIC

Known for its large fleet of river boats, Scenic is entering the expedition world. The line is building a new 228-passenger luxury expedition yacht called SCENIC ECLIPSE, delayed and now to debut in April 2019. After inaugural voyages in the Mediterranean and Cuba, it will head to Antarctica for the winter, then back through the Mediterranean to the Arctic region.

Marrying luxury with adventure, SCENIC ECLIPSE will have heated indoor and outdoor pools, a spa, gym, and yoga and pilates studio. Choose from nine different dining venues, ranging from casual to fine dining. The all-suite accommodations have balconies and butler service. All-inclusive fares cover all drinks, laundry service and wifi. For exploring on shore, two helicopters and a submarine are carried on board, plus Zodiacs, kayaks and snow shoes. SCENIC ECLIPSE II is due in 2020.

New Generation Expedition Ships

A rendering of the swanky Scenic Eclipse. * Rendering: Scenic

SEABOURN

Seabourn has offered an expedition-style program in Antarctica with the Seabourn Quest since 2013, and will continue to do so until the arrival of the purpose-designed pair of 264-passenger expedition vessels expected to debut in 2020 and 2022. 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 limits,  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.

 

SUNSTONE SHIPS

The largest tonnage provider of expedition vessels to the cruise industry, Miami, Florida-based SunStone Ships is releasing four new sister ships within the span of the next two years, and has an option to build additional six vessels.

The ships are being designed with inverted bows, which are thought to mitigate vertical motion from waves to create a smoother ride. The first delivery will be in September 2019, with one vessel to follow every six months afterwards. SunStone’s new ships are being planned to accommodate between 130 and 200 passengers. They’ll be rated Ice Class 1A or Polar Code 6. The vessels’ interior will be created by Florida-based design firm Tomas Tillberg Design International, one of the most sought after names in the business.

The vessels are being built in China (by China Merchants Heavy Industry, near Shanghai,) with the design, equipment and management supplied by Norway’s Ulstein Design & Solutions. The plan is for the fleet to be chartered to other companies within the expedition world. The first vessel has been chartered long-term to Aurora Expeditions in Australia. This vessel’s technical operations will be managed by Cruise Management International (CMI) and the hotel operations, by sister company CMI Leisure.

New Generation Expedition Ships

Note the inverted bow of SunStone’s new builds. * Rendering: SunStone

 

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JetSetSarah Circumnavigates Iceland

JetSetSarah Circumnavigates Iceland

By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon.

The mountain range, as jagged as an electrocardiogram readout, is the color of chocolate pudding. Rising sharply from a navy blue sea, each peak is capped with an ivory crown of snow and punctuated with patches of grass so vividly green that they almost vibrate against the chalky sky. As seagulls swoop across the horizon and caw their welcome, I can’t help but feel fortunate to be here, almost at the top of the world, seeing Iceland for the first time.

And I know I’m luckier still to be witnessing all of this majesty snug in the warmth of the queen-sized bed in my oceanview suite aboard Windstar Cruises’ Star Pride, the rugged beauty of Seydisfjordur unfurling just beyond my stateroom’s Juliet balcony. If there’s a more comfortable way to see Iceland, neither I ­nor the 211 other passengers on this 106-suite ship have found it.

Waking up to mountain landscapes that seem cut and pasted from a jigsaw puzzle is just one of the perks of cruising with Windstar, whose Star Pride plies Iceland cruises round trip from the capital of Reykjavík each summer. The five-week season offers seven-night circumnavigations of the 40,000-square-mile island, stopping at five ports. The itinerary is among the line’s most popular, due no doubt to Iceland’s “bucket list” status for many cruisers.

If you’re eyeing this cruise for next season, here’s what you need to know.

STAR PRIDE STYLE + CHARACTER

With six yachts (carrying a maximum of 310 passengers) Windstar Cruises markets itself as a laidback yet luxurious line, suited to the active curious traveler. And the relaxed atmosphere on board this former Seabourn yacht (the sail-less 212-passenger vessel joined the line in 2014 and was renovated in 2016) bears that out. Star Pride Iceland passengers (mostly American couples in their 60s and older) are clearly sophisticated and well-traveled, fit enough to enjoy the active shore excursions offered.

The vibe is very “winter at the country club,” with passengers dressed in sporty-casual style (think jeans, sweaters and puffy vests with hiking boots) during the day, with slacks and button-down shirts or sweaters for men in the evenings, and smart separates or dresses for ladies. Since there are no formal nights, leave your tux and gown at home, but know that jeans are discouraged in dining areas in the evening.

Know, too, that while the Windstar experience is by no means mass-market (budget about $6,500 per person for a balcony cabin; $4,600 per person for an oceanview), neither is it the most luxurious of cruising experiences. In some cases we found the service and amenities to skew more toward laidback than luxurious (paper coffee cups in the Yacht Club restaurant; slow service in the Amphora restaurant at lunch time, for example). If you board with expectations of service at the level of, say, Regent Seven Seas Cruises or Crystal Cruises, you may be disappointed. But if warm and friendly staff; a relaxed and un-stuffy atmosphere; and a fascinating Iceland itinerary are your priorities, this is your cruise.

Editor’s Note

In November 2018, Windstar announced its impressive plans to stretch and upgrade its trio of ex-Seabourn sister yachts, including the Star Pride, between October 2019 and November 2020. Sisters Star Breeze, Star Legend and Star Pride will be cut in half so a midsection can be added. This will extend the ships by 25.6 meters/84 feet, bringing the total length to just over 159 meters/522 feet. The passenger capacity will go from 212 for each ship to 312; there will be 50 suites added per ship and dining choices, the spa, fitness center and pool deck will be expanded. In the summer of 2019, sister Star Breeze (pre-overhaul) will offer five weeklong cruises plying the same Iceland itinerary featured in Sarah’s story. Here are more details. Watch this space for future updates.

Windstar to Stretch Three Ships

This shows how the ships will look after their lengthening. * Rendering: Windstar

 

STAR PRIDE SERVICE + AMENITIES

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more friendly and welcoming crew than on Star Pride. From stewards to boutique staff, everyone we encountered was eager to please.

At 440-feet-long, the ship lacks the square footage to accommodate the bells and whistles you’ll find on larger ships (though with the upcoming stretch of the ship, this will be change). But on an Iceland itinerary you’ll likely spend most of your time exploring the destination anyway, and once back on board there are still plenty of diversions.

Interior amenities include the WindSpa on deck 7, which has three treatment rooms, a sauna, steam room and salon. You’ll find the fitness center, with weights and cardio machines, here too. The Yacht Club and Compass Rose lounges (on decks 8 and 6, respectively); a screening room (deck 5); and small but handsome library on deck 6 are popular spots to read, and play cards and games. A tiny casino (two gaming tables and some slot machines) is tucked into a corner of Compass Rose, and the petite boutique offers a place to spend your winnings.

Given the weather during our sailing, the plunge pool on deck 7 didn’t see much use, but several brave souls took advantage of the two heated whirlpools (it’s easy to miss the one forward on deck 5). On the penultimate day of the cruise, Star Pride’s watersports platform was the venue for the polar plunge into the frigid Greenland Sea, but it gets more use during warm-weather itineraries, when kayaks, paddleboards and other water toys are launched from this ship’s aft marina.

Windstar’s open bridge policy means that cruisers are free to visit the bridge at any time (except during docking and sailaway) to meet the captain and staff and to get a glimpse of how the ship operates.

JetSetSarah Circumnavigates Iceland

Circumnavigating Iceland in 7 days.

After the stretch and refurbishment: 

With more space, there will be a larger pool and more outdoor deck area, and a bigger and upgraded spa and fitness center, including a new yoga/Pilates studio. Staff and crew areas and accommodations will also be expanded and improved, enabling Windstar to maintain its high 1.5:1 passenger-to-hotel staff ratio.

STAR PRIDE CABINS

Star Pride’s 106 suites are divided into four categories (64 oceanview, four classic, 36 balcony and a pair of owner’s suites), with most measuring 277 square feet (and the largest, 575 square feet). Regardless of size, each feels more like an elegant hotel room than a traditional cruise ship cabin, a welcome oasis at the end of a day spent exploring Iceland’s rugged landscape.

Our balcony suite, decorated in blue, gold and neutral tones, impressed with a granite-clad bathroom complete with a bathtub; plenty of storage space (there’s a walk-in closet with two rods, shelving, drawers and wall hooks; a dressing table and bedside table drawers); a separate living area with sofa and armchair seating (separated from the sleeping area with curtains); and, of course, a balcony. Compact (there’s no room for outdoor furniture) and accessed through floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, the “Juliet” balcony is the perfect spot for morning coffee with a coastal view. And with the doors open to let in the salty tang of the sea, the cabin becomes an open-air oasis. Blackout curtains ensure a good night’s sleep — crucial during Iceland’s summer, when the sun doesn’t set until midnight (and even then it never gets truly dark).

Common to all staterooms: walk-in closets; TV and DVD player; stocked fridge and mini bar; robes and slippers; and hairdryers. Fresh fruit and flowers en suite are thoughtful touches that are a Windstar standard.

JetSetSarah Circumnavigates Iceland

Life is good on the “Juliet” balcony. * Photo: JetSetSarah

After the stretch and refurbishment: 

The 50 new suites will include new categories and open-floor-plan configurations. Two new, larger owner’s suites include one that combines with neighboring suites to create up to a three-bedroom, two-balcony suite, ideal for families. All bathrooms will be modernized, and new sliding doors will be installed in balcony suites; otherwise most existing suites (like in Sarah’s video) will keep the same interior design.

STAR PRIDE DINING + DRINKING

Begin the day with buffet or cooked-to-order breakfast at The Verandah, aft on deck 7. The airy space has indoor, deck and courtyard seating, but in inclement weather when passengers are forced to dine inside, space is cramped. If you want a seat on a rainy morning, either arrive soon after opening or head down to deck 3’s Amphora, Star Pride’s main dining room. This is a classically elegant space with open seating and tables for two to eight, serving à la carte breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Yacht Club, forward on deck 1, serves continental breakfast for early risers (as well as all-day snacks) with sea views on the side.

At lunchtime, your options are the buffet at The Verandah; a la carte options at Amphora; and once a cruise, weather permitting, a buffet of grilled meats, seafood, and salads at Star Bar, aft on deck 8.

In the evening, enjoy cocktails in the Star Bar, at Compass Rose or in the main lounge. Amphora serves dinner until 8 p.m., and The Verandah is transformed into Candles, a popular and intimate dining experience. Like all Star Pride’s dining venues it is complimentary, but available by reservation only once to each cruiser per voyage. Room service is available around-the-clock.

Windstar typically gets raves for its dining (the line partners with the James Beard Foundation and there are Beard selections on every dinner menu), though for us, none of the meals were particularly remarkable or superior to what we’ve encountered on less expensive lines.

JetSetSarah Circumnavigates Iceland

The Amphora, Star Pride’s main dining room as it appears currently. * Photo: JetSetSarah

After the stretch and refurbishment: 

There will be five different and updated dining experiences with new partnerships in addition to James Beard. A 42-seat alternative restaurant will be introduced, providing a cuisine (to be announced) that Windstar doesn’t currently offer, and a casual barbecue space will be added near the top deck Star Bar. This will enable grilling during Windstar’s “Signature Onboard Barbecue.” The Veranda Restaurant will be enlarged to offer significantly more ocean-view seating, with an upgraded dining area. A revamped Amphora dining room will have a new floor plan with more window seats.

STAR PRIDE ENTERTAINMENT

Don’t expect Broadway-style shows, ice rinks or bowling alleys at sea — Star Pride’s entertainment options are decidedly old-school. During the day, almost everyone goes on tour, but there are trivia competitions, movie screenings, and board games for those who stay behind. Back on board in the afternoon, most cruisers gather for cocktails outdoors at the Star Bar (weather permitting); read or chat in one of the lounges; or retreat to their staterooms to nap after a rigorous outing.

Windstar’s much-loved signature sailaway, when sails on its masted ships are hoisted to Vangelis’ theme from the movie 1492, is modified on its sail-less motor yachts such as Star Pride. Instead, crew members raise the vessels flags, watched with delight by passengers gathered on the Star Bar’s deck.

Evening port talks are followed by performances by a musician or duo in the Compass Rose and main lounge. Once a cruise the captain hosts a cocktail party, and the staff talent show is a passenger favorite. Some highlights: A solo (and quite suggestive!) dance by the ship photographer; a traditional Indonesian dance by members of the dining room team; and the grand finale, a comedic “synchronized swimming” performance featuring a fabric “sea” and bare-chested “swimmers” sporting goggles and swim caps.

JetSetSarah Circumnavigates Iceland

The Lounge was renovated in 2014-2015 and won’t be re-done in next year’s stretch and facelift. * Photo: Windstar

After the stretch and refurbishment: 

Many public spaces on Pride, Breeze & Legend were completely renovated in 2014-15 when the the trio was transferred to Windstar, including the Lounge, Compass Rose, Yacht Club and Atrium, and so they will not be re-done.

ICELAND EXCURSIONS

Iceland of course is the main reason people book this cruise.

Of the 200 people or so on board our cruise, an impressive 188 booked at least one excursion in each of the five ports. And that speaks not just to the adventurous spirit of Star Pride’s passengers, but also to Iceland’s allure.

With an area of 40,000 square-miles and with just 350,000 people (two-thirds of them living in the world’s most northerly capital, Reykjavik), Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Visitors can expect to see vast deserted tracts of farmland, craggy glacier fields, volcanic mountains, spectacular fjords and, of course, the thermal pools and natural geysers for which the country is so famous.

Most cruisers opt for a pre- or post-tour stay in the compact capital, allowing time to take in city sights; to tour the Golden Circle (a roughly 200-mile route that comprises Pingevillir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir and Strokkur geysers); and, of course, to see the Blue Lagoon.

TIP: If you decide to visit the Blue Lagoon (and you should), consider visiting on the day you arrive. It’s only 20 minutes’ drive from the airport (as opposed to 50 minutes from Reykjavik); there are lockers large enough to store your luggage; and your ticket allows you to say as long as you like. Most flights from the U.S. touch down at KEF early in the morning, and soaking in a steaming turquoise pool certainly beats pacing the hotel lobby waiting for your room to be ready.

In its 2018 Iceland season, Star Pride offered 40 excursions in five ports of call — Heimaey Island (Vestmannaeyj); Seydisfjördur; Akureyri; Ísafjördur and Grundarfjördur. They range from two-hour bus tours to half-day rough-and-tumble 4X4 safaris, whale watching boat tours, and strenuous six-hour glacier hikes. The most popular picks are anything puffin-related — Iceland is home to 60 percent of the world’s puffin population — and flying tours that take sightseers over glaciers and waterfalls.

TIP: Whichever excursions you choose, wet-weather clothing is essential because even in the summertime, Iceland’s weather is notoriously unpredictable. During our sailing, the country was having its worst summer in more than a century, which meant temperatures in the 40s Fahrenheit, daily rain, heavy winds and frequent fog. Waterproof outerwear and shoes (water-resistant won’t do) and hiking boots are essential. But leave behind the umbrella. High winds render them useless, and carrying one is the quickest way to stand out as a tourist.

There are hiking opportunities in every port. Two standouts:

Ísafjördur — the short but steep climb 738 feet up to the Troll’s Throne, where the beauty of Iceland’s fjords, hills and waterfalls are revealed.

Seydisfjördur — a three-hour ramble over mountainside punctuated with the island’s iconic purple lupine flowers and waterfalls cascading toward the frigid sea.

JetSetSarah Circumnavigates Iceland

On Star Pride’s Chasing Waterfalls excursion in Seydisfjordur. * Photo: JetSetSarah

When the ship crosses the Arctic Circle, passengers are given commemorative certificates inducting them into the Order of the Blue Nose. And intrepid cruisers (count me among them) who dare to take the polar plunge into the icy waters of the Greenland Sea receive hot chocolate and their own certificate of accomplishment as a reward.

But no doubt passengers’ most precious souvenir will be the memory of this adventure to one of the most enchanting and diverse destinations on the planet.

Sarah takes the polar plunge! * Photo: JetSetSarah

 

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Adventure Canada

Adventure Canada

Founded in 1987 and based near Toronto, the family line of ownership continues with the second generation expanding the firm’s reaches in Arctic Canada, its more temperate regions and eastward to Greenland, Iceland, Ireland and Scotland. In winter, there are a few warm weather options in Costa Rica and Panama, Ecuador and Galapagos.   

Here’s an expedition outfit, based in Canada, that concentrates on what it knows best — the country’s vast landscape and seascape explored and ideally, explored by expedition ship.

Adventure Canada

Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavour. * Photo: Ocean Endeavour

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

Ocean Endeavour is the firm’s primary ship for expeditions in the Northern Hemisphere. (Built 1982; last refitted 2016; 198 passengers). Ice class 1-B permits summer cruising in the Arctic region

Passenger Decks

Six decks and one elevator serves the lowest three decks.

Passenger Profile

Mostly Canadians and Americans.

Price

$$-$$$

Itineraries

A sampling of itineraries has the Ocean Endeavour begin the season in early June. Have a look at blog.adventurecanada.com.

➢Circumnavigating Ireland (11 days) for Irish history and culture, archeology, rugged coastline and sea birds.

➢Cruising Scotland (11 days) for Neolithic ruins, St. Kilda for the largest sea bird colony in the UK, and Scotch Whiskey and Harris Tweeds.

➢Circumnavigating Iceland (9 days), the land of sea and fire best seen from a ship, active volcanoes, lava fields, emerging islands, geysers, glaciers, fishing villages and birding.

➢Iceland and Greenland (11 days) see previous entry for Iceland, while Greenland for its Viking ruins, fjords, glaciers and massive ice cap, whales, sea birds and hiking.

➢Into the Northwest Passage (17 days) for polar bears and sea  birds, crossing Davis Strait to Baffin Island, Zodiacs to the graves of the Inuit doomed Franklin Expedition; colorful Inuit villages.

➢Greenland and Labrador-Newfoundland (15 days) for Greenland as described above and the rugged Labrador Coast, fjords, port villages and across the Strait of Belle Isle to Newfoundland.

➢Circumnavigating Newfoundland and St. Pierre et Miquelon (10 days) for a former whaling station and an UNESCO World Heritage Site, First Nation settlement and culture, Viking history and on St. Pierre, a true French island outpost.

➢The Mighty St. Lawrence (10 days) for the Red sandstone cliffs off the Magdalen Islands, First Nation settlements, Scottish culture, birds galore- gannets, puffins, razorbills, common murres, Percé Rock, Saguenay fjord, and whales.

Adsventure Canada

In the Northwest Passage. *Photo: Adventure Canada

Included Features

Ocean Endeavour only: All sightseeing and shore trips; port fees; 24-hour coffee, tea, snacks; expedition jacket to keep; rubber boots. Extra cost: Some expedition itineraries require charter flights.

Why Go?

From Scotland to the Northwest Passage, see nature at its most dramatic — fjords, glaciers, rugged topography, archeology, Viking history, remote Inuit villages and ways of life, sea animals and birds galore — while traveling with a smallish group of people many of whom will share your interests and enthusiasm.

Adventure Canada

The view from deck. * Photo: Adventure Canada

When to Go?

The departures begin in late spring and last until the autumn.

Cabins

One of the vessel’s attractions are cabins for three and four that can be booked singly on a share basis (same sex). This feature considerably reduces travel costs for the less well-heeled. Other cabins are both inside (also lower in price) and outside (portholes or windows) with two lower berths or matrimonial bed, and private facilities. A few cabins offer a fridge.  A limited selection of no supplement singles in lower and mid-range  price cabins (categories 3-7) are available, while when they are sold,  it’s 1.5 times the berth cost. This does not apply to the highest grade cabins. Those aged 30 and bow save 30% of the berth rate.

A cabin on Ocean Endeavour. * Photo: Adventure Canada

Public Rooms

Shared amenities are three lounges; swimming pool, two saunas and a hot tub.

Adventure Canada

The decks of Ocean Endeavour. * Photo: Adventure Canada

Dining

Restaurant with buffet and menu items at breakfast and lunch and served dinner.

Activities & Entertainment

On board: talks and presentations; workshops; photography tips; concerts; singalongs, dancing.

Off the ship: excursions in Zodiacs to see wildlife, explore inlets, fjords, sail up to glaciers, cruise to small islands, go ashore to meet the locals and see their lifestyle and culture, remains of Viking settlements, geysers, volcanoes, landscapes.

Adventure Canada

Expert lectures are a bit part of the appeal of an Ocean Endeavour expedition. * Photo: Adventure Canada

Special Notes

In addition, briefly noted, Adventure Canada offers one-off (sometimes two) itineraries as follows:

➢Island Solitude, 12-passenger motor sailor, built in 2017,  offers a couple of cruises in Haida Gawii, British Columbia, and known as Queen Charlotte Islands for its native culture, including totems, vast temperature rain forest, provincial park.

➢La Pinta, reconstructed and refitted in 2007, a 46-passenger motor ship for 9 days in the Galapagos, plus Ecuador

➢Variety Voyager, built 2012, a 72-passenger motor ship for 11 days in Costa Rica and Panama (including canal transit)

➢Hebridean Sky, built in 1991, refitted in 2016, a 108-passenger motor ship for 11 days to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Along the Same Lines

One Ocean Expeditions, and Quark Expeditions have the most overlapping coverage of the Northern latitudes.

Contact

Adventure Canada, 14 Front Street South, Mississauga, Ontario L5H 2C4 Canada; 800-363-7566,  adventurecanada.com; blog.adventurecanada.com.

 

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Arctic Beach Cleanups

Arctic Beach Cleanups

By Anne Kalosh.

As the Arctic cruise season draws to a close, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) looked back on the results of the summer’s efforts to combat marine plastic pollution.

AECO’s environmental agent Sarah Auffret has been working with cruise operators to identify ways to reduce the use of disposable plastic. The association’s United Nations-affiliated Clean Seas campaign also focuses on involving more expedition cruise passengers in beach cleanups.

Arctic Beach Cleanups

Sarah Auffret, AECO’s environmental agent. * Photo: Edda Falk, AECO

According to Auffret, people are becoming more aware of the problem of marine litter.

“The project is about cutting down on single-use plastic and cleaning up litter that has already found its way to the ocean, but it’s also about educating people. Photos of polar bears chewing on Styrofoam send a strong message about how important it is that we change our habits,” Auffret said.

Arctic Beach Cleanups

Bear chewing Styrofoam. * Photo: Jonathan R. Green, G Adventures

She’s impressed with what has been achieved in a just few busy months. Having visited 21 ships, Auffret saw changes, for example, water dispensers installed to replace plastic water bottles.

And at least 127 cleanups were completed by expedition cruise ships this summer, often in remote coastal areas where they can make a big difference. According to Auffret, fishing nets and other debris can have devastating effects on wildlife, so every cleanup counts.

Arctic Beach Cleanups

Map showing sites cleaned by AECO. * Map by AECO, esri.com

In addition, AECO members are helping document the distribution, composition and origin of the waste they collect. This information can give researchers valuable insight that ultimately may help beat plastic pollution.

So far this summer, the combined cleanup efforts in Svalbard have collected more than 40,000 kilograms of marine litter. This impressive amount results from the volunteer efforts of AECO members, Svalbard’s local sports association, governor of Svalbard volunteer cruises, the Norwegian Coast Guard and even the Norwegian royal family.

“In addition to larger fishing nets and other objects, our members are doing an impressive job of picking up small pieces of plastic that litter the shore of so many beaches,” Auffet noted. “It’s tedious work, but it’s important to remove it before it breaks down to microplastics and enters the food chain.”

Arctic Beach Cleanups

Expedition cruise staff freeing a seal. * Photo: Rolf Stange


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Quark Expeditions has been in business since 1991 offering lots of creative itineraries in the Polar Regions (Arctic, North Pole, & Antarctica) using a fleet of chartered ships including a pair of Russia’s finest icebreakers. The firm was the first with paying passengers to sail the complete Northeast Passage across the top of the Russian Arctic, and to make circumnavigations of the Arctic Ocean and Antarctic continent.

With the varied fleet, there is a wide price range to choose from based on from moderately-priced cabins that four can share on up to two-room suites for those who want maximum comforts when not ashore . The expedition teams come from a wide range of backgrounds, some with considerable longevity with Quark. Short biographies on Quark’s website introduce their experience and skills.

Passenger Profile

As long-established Quark is well known around the world, passengers come from North America, Australia, Britain and other parts of Europe.

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

The Fleet: With such a large number of ships involved, the individual vessel amenities vary considerably, and here we sketch the most important details. In addition to the ships listed below, the firm has ordered a new expedition ship taking up to 200 passengers. Special features will be four embarkation points for faster and smoother access to the 20 Zodiacs and two helidecks. Delivery is scheduled for 2020. In the meantime, Quark will charter the 2019-built World Explorer for its 2019-2020 Antarctic season

The Icebreakers

50 YEARS OF VICTORY: The world’s most powerful icebreaker, and nuclear-powered, was designed as a Russian scientific vessel in 2007 and more recently chartered for passenger expeditions. It is dedicated to summertime trips embarking in Murmansk, a major Russian naval port, and heads to 90 degrees north, equating to the North Pole.

The 6-deck ship takes up to 128 passengers in all outside cabins with private facilities designed for a staff and crew that spent months aboard, so desks and good storage are part of their functional design. There are two lounges with bars, one forward-facing, and a library with polar region references. The dining room seats all at one seating and all bar beverages are included. The food is continental, Eastern European and Russian. Amenities include a small salt-water pool, basketball and volleyball court, gym and sauna. Elevators connect four of the five passenger decks (not lowest with pool & sauna). A sightseeing helicopter, stabled in a hanger, takes off and lands from the aft open deck. A hot air balloon may follow, weather permitting.

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

North Pole. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

** KAPITAN KHLEBNIKOV (not currently chartered): This Russian icebreaker has enjoyed longevity in the expedition world and specifically with Quark. Built in 1981 and converted for passenger use in 1992, the KHLEBNIKOV has made more Northwest Passage voyages than any other ship afloat, and from time to time, she reverts to her icebreaking duties. Expeditions include transits of both the Northeast and Northwest Passages and explorations of remote northeast Greenland. 51 outside cabins and suites are spread over four of the eight decks, and all passenger levels thankfully enjoy elevator access. The amenities include windows, desks and large closets as the ship was designed for long-term living. Four corner suites have windows facing forward and to the side, and three more cabins are forward-facing, all qualifying as true two-room accommodations with the lounge fitted with TV and DVD. The forward-facing lounge, bar, and library are semi-partitioned into three spaces, the auditorium screens films and hosts the lecture program carried out by the expedition staff. The dining room is divided into two sections with forward and side-facing windows. It’s open seating and the food is continental and Eastern European. On the lowest deck, a suite of rooms provides for a gym, sauna and heated plunge pool.

Expedition Ships

OCEAN NOVA: Built in Denmark in 1992 as a passenger vessel connecting Greenland’s coastal settlements, the ice-class (1B) OCEAN NOVA was subsequently lengthened and in 2006 converted to an expedition ship for passengers. Taking up to 78, she continues to operate in her familiar home territory as well as making circumnavigations of Spitsbergen. 38 outside cabins with windows are spread over just two decks, and all have windows, TV and DVD.

While the majority are twins, additional configurations also include six with upper and lower berths, three triples and two quads. The main lounge and separate library are located aft while the auditorium on the deck above is a new space where lectures are held and as well as serving as an observation lounge and bar with floor to ceiling port and starboard windows. The windowed midships dining room has enough seating for all and a large serving buffet for most meals. There is an exercise room but no elevator between decks. The ship carries a fleet of Zodiacs for inshore cruising, and offers hiking and snowshoeing, and kayaking (for a fee).

Elephant Seal ignores Ocean Nova, in Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Elephant Seal ignores Ocean Nova, in Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

OCEAN ADVENTURER (formerly SEA ADVENTURER): Built in 1972 in Yugoslavia as a passenger ship for the Russians, the OCEAN ADVENTURER was renamed and upgraded to its latest standards  in 2017 and has a 1A ice classification. In the summer, she cruises Greenland and Inuit Canada, Spitsbergen and nearby Franz Josef Land archipelago, occasionally including the North of Norway. Voyages include Zodiac cruising, hiking and snowshoeing, and for a fee, kayaking and overnight camping ashore.

In winter, the OCEAN ADVENTURER cruises Antarctica, including below the circle, the Falklands and South Georgia. Most trips offer kayaking and some camping, both optional extras. 128 passengers occupy moderate-size outside windowed or portholed cabins with private facilities, plus in the latest refit, six new twins and three suites. Most are twins, and six are triples. Eight cabins on Upper Deck face an enclosed side promenade, and with the deck’s lights kept on at night, shades need to be drawn. All cabins have TV and DVD player. There is NO elevator between the six decks. For a small ship three lounges are unusual. The main forward lounge with moderately good views is used for presentations, and on the same deck port side, the Clipper Club is a second quiet place to read and relax. The most attractive library with comfy seating is on the deck above. The dining room is all the way aft with the best tables for viewing at the stern. The food caters to the widely diverse nationalities. A small exercise room is located down on Main Deck.

OCEAN DIAMOND: Built in 1974 as a freighter, she was rebuilt into a very popular cruise ship in the mid-1980s and now carries 189 passengers on a winter Antarctica program, that on the longer trips, include the Falkands and South Georgia. The ship offers kayaking on all itineraries and camping on many as an optional extra. All cabins are outside, most of a good moderate size with either windows or portholes and TV and DVD. Singles have one double bed, twins either two beds or one double, and a few are fitted with an upper berth.

Public rooms tend to be aft with the exception of the forward observation lounge. The Upper Deck lounge is used for presentations and an aft facing bar is below. The main restaurant is on the lowest passenger deck and a special intimate dinner restaurant is just above. The food is of a high standard. An elevator serves all passenger decks. Additional amenities are a gym, massage and wellness program. The ship offers complimentary Zodiac cruises, snowshoeing and hiking, and for a fee, kayaking, cross-country skiing and mountaineering.

Ocean Diamond. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Ocean Diamond. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

OCEAN ENDEAVOUR: Completed in 1982 as one of a series of eight cruise-ferry -style ships for the Russians, she passed through a series of short-term owners before settling down as a 198-passenger expedition ship, here for Antarctic cruises and extensions to the Falklands and South Georgia. On most of these trips, the ship offers Zodiac cruises, hiking and snowshoeing as free options, and kayaking, cross-country skiing and mountaineering as paid options.

The cabins fall into 13 categories, most outside with windows or portholes and all with private facilities, radio and TV. Most rooms are twin-bedded, a few are sold as triples, and a block of inside cabins are used for single travelers. The top category faces forward over the bow. Lounges include the Meridian at the top of the ship, the aft-facing Aurora looking out to the pool, the intimate Compass Club, the Nautilus Lounge for presentations, and a small library. The large Polaris Restaurant is bracketed by large port and starboard windows with the food being mostly continental and Eastern European. Wine is complimentary with dinner.

Additional amenities are separate men’s and women’s saunas, and spa and gym. Elevators connect the three most important of the six passenger decks.

Ocean Endeavour passes under a chinstrap penguin rookery. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Ocean Endeavour passes under a chintrap penguin rookery. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

ISLAND SKY: Completed in 1989 as Renaissance VIII, this unit was the last of eight nearly identical boutique ships for now defunct Renaissance Cruises. She is used for the shorter Antarctica Peninsula cruises based in Ushuaia, and for those who would like to fly to and from Antarctica to join and leave the ship there without making the Drake Passage sea crossing.  Five decks have roomy cabin accommodations for 106, four on the highest deck having balconies, with eight more on the deck below. All have flatscreen TVs, DVD players, and private showers (no tub baths).

The middle deck has a narrow wraparound promenade, and an elevator connects all decks. The Club, one of two lounges has a connecting library, and on the deck below, the main lounge is used for presentations. The restaurant is located aft on the lowest deck with informal dining on the Lido Deck aft when the weather is suitable. High up on the Explorer Deck is the best location for forward viewing, and aft is a hair salon. The ship carries Zodiacs for local calm water excursions and for landing on the peninsula.

WORLD EXPLORER — A newly ship in 2019, she carries up to 172 passengers (limited to 140 for the Antarctic season). The cabin accommodation is all outside with either walk-out balconies or Juliet step-out platforms. This ship will handle some of the fly-cruise departures along with OCEAN ADVENTURER.

Note: ULTRAMARINE — A highly sophisticated new expedition ship is under construction in Croatia to begin cruising Antarctica for the 2020-2021 season. This will be the company’s first owned new-build. Passenger capacity will be 200 (6 are singles), two helicopters carried, with trips included in the fare, and a stern marina for launching the Zodiacs. In the Arctic, they will be used for sightseeing and accessing hiking and skiing locations. Other activities include Greenland camping, mountain biking and alpine kayaking.

Quark Expeditions

Preview of ULTRAMARINE in Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

 

Price

$$ to $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

Itineraries
  • Antarctica Peninsula may be the sole destination on shorter expeditions (11 to 14 days), while long voyages may include the Falkland Islands, South Orkneys and South Georgia (20-23 days). On some Antarctic Peninsula cruises, passengers have the option of flying across the potentially-rough Drake Passage from Ushuaia, Argentina, and depending on the sailing, one or both ways (8-11 days). Those with more time, extend your stay add-ons to Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; Iguazu Falls, Argentina/Brazil or Easter Island, Pacific Ocean.
  • In the Arctic, Quark offers many departures that last from 9 to 14 that may include Norway above the Arctic Circle, Spitsbergen/Svalbard and Franz Josef Land, an archipelago, Greenland (all coasts), Arctic Inuit Canada, and the North Pole. For add-ons, consider Reykjavik, Iceland; Oslo or Helsinki.
Why Go?

Antarctica and the South Atlantic islands are playgrounds for animals and birds galore, visiting isolated settlements and research stations, seeing amazing ice formations and enjoying some of the world’s clearest air.

Curious penguins in Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Curious penguins in Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

The Arctic offers bird and animal life on land and in the sea, ice, glaciers and fjords, remote settlements, Viking ruins, and a possible voyage to the North Pole.

There is something out there, so getting ready. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

There is something out there, so getting ready. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

When to Go?

All expeditions are scheduled according to the regional climatic conditions, so the Arctic voyages take place from May through September while the Antarctic expeditions operate between between November and February.

Activities & Entertainment

Lectures and recaps presented by the expedition team are a daily part of life aboard, to prepare you for and answer questions about going ashore. The choice of activities in Antarctica has broadened considerably in the last few years, and while most options off the ship are included in the overall rates: Zodiac trips, snowshoeing and photography — some will cost extra such as camping, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, cross-country-skiing and mountaineering. Arctic voyages, depending on the specific itinerary, may feature Zodiac cruising, kayaking, hiking, and snowshoeing on some trips and extra cost hot air ballooning on treks to the North Pole.

Kayaking is available in both the Arctic and Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Kayaking is available in both the Arctic and Antarctica. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Along the Same Lines: Look at other lines that concentrate on expedition-style cruising.

Contact: Quark Expeditions, 3131 Elliott Avenue, Suite 250, Seattle, WA 98121;  Quark Expeditions.com, USA 888-979-2061, UK 0.808.120.2333, Australia 800.812.855

TWS

Silversea Expeditions

Silversea Expeditions was launched in 2008 as high-end Silversea Cruises’ adventure arm, offering its loyal well-healed clients a chance to explore some really remote corners of the globe at a level of luxury close to what they had been enjoying on Silversea’s 5 ritzy 296- to 382-passenger ships.

Silversea Expeditions started out with the SILVER EXPLORER (the former PRINCE ALBERT II), and then in 2012 added the SILVER GALAPAGOS (formerly GALAPAGOS EXPLORER), and in 2014, the SILVER DISCOVERER (the former CLIPPER ODYSSEY — since sold to CroisiEurope). All of the ships were refurbished before joining Silversea Expeditions, with SILVER EXPLORER being the most elegant.

Note, most officers and crew aboard SILVER GALAPAGOS are Ecuadorian as required by the government, and the crews on the other two ships are international.

Another note: In August 2017, Silversea Cruises’ SILVER CLOUD was refurbished and converted into an ice-class ship and then joined Silversea Expeditions at the end of 2017 to offer a similar experience as her fleetmates. After the overhaul, SILVER CLOUD EXPEDITION carries 254 passengers and sails in polar and non-polar regions; when sailing Arctic and Antarctic itineraries, the number of passengers booked on those cruises will be restricted to 200. Sistership SILVER WIND will receive the same modifications to ice class and have its passenger capacity drop from 294 to 254, again 200 when in Antarctica. The work is expected to be completed in November 2020, and expedition equipment such as kayaks and Zodiacs will be added.

In July 2020, SILVER ORIGIN (100 passengers) will join the fleet cruising the Galapagos bringing a new standard to the island chain with prices to match, and her passenger/crew ratio approaches one to one.

RELATED: Reader Reviewer Sue B on her Antarctica Silver Cloud cruise

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

SILVER EXPLORER (b. 1989 & 142 p); SILVER GALAPAGOS (b. 1990 & 100 p); SILVER CLOUD “EXPEDITIONS” (b. 1993 & 254 p; rebuilt 2017); SILVER ORIGIN (2020, & 200 passengers).

Previously a sister ship, SILVER WIND (b.1995 & 296 p) remains with the main cruise ship fleet, while all her running mates exceed our 300 passenger limit. They comprise SILVER SHADOW and SILVER WHISPER (382 p), SILVER SPIRIT (608 p), and SILVER MOON and SILVER MUSE (596 p).

SILVER ORIGIN will appear in July 2020 taking only 100 passengers and 90 crew on mostly 7-day Galapagos circuits, plus two December and January holiday cruises at 10 and 11 days.

Silverseas Expeditions

SILVER ORIGIN cruises the Galapagos. * Rendering: Silversea Expeditions

Passengers

Well-to-do couples 40s on up from North America, and others from the UK, Europe and Australia. Many have previously cruised on Silversea’s posh cruise ships. Galapagos cruises will draw families during the school holidays.

Passenger Decks

5 with an elevator connecting all of them. 7 decks on SILVER CLOUD and elevators connect all but the highest deck with the jogging track and deck chairs overlooking the pool below. 6 decks with elevators serving 5, the exception being the highest Stargazing Deck.

Price

$$$

Included Features

All excursions, wine, spirits and all non-alcoholic drinks throughout cruise, plus gratuities. Also, a snappy-looking bright red expedition parka embossed with SILVERSEA EXPEDITIONS.

Itineraries

Cruises span the globe with the expedition fleet. Only SILVER GALAPAGOS stays put in the Galapagos with week-long, year-round cruises amongst the Galapagos Islands between Cristobal and Baltra, plus two nights in Quito, Ecuador.

In late 2019, the line announced the First Expedition World Cruise, the longest ever undertaken, when the SILVER CLOUD departs January 2021 for an 167-day odyssey calling in at 107 ports spanning the globe and including both polar regions.

What follows is a more normal sampling:

  • 12-day summer cruises with SILVER CLOUD either embarking in Norway or Svalbard for a Norwegian coastal and fjord experience and a circumnavigation of Svalbard and 16 days exploring Greenland’s west coast and Arctic Canada.
  • SILVER EXPLORER winters in the Antarctica on 10-day expeditions while 18-day itineraries add the Falklands and South Georgia  Following the Antarctica season, the ship cruises the Chilean fjords, then sails westward to Easter Island, interisland loops in the South Pacific, northward to Japan and South Korea, the Russian Far East (many islands plus the Aleutians), South-central and Southeast Alaska and return to the Russian Far East. The EXPLORER then undertakes the first ever Silversea’s Northeast Passage above Siberia/Russia. Following that the remainder of the summer is voyaging to Spitsbergen, Iceland, Greenland and Arctic Canada. Then prior to the winter in Antarctica, cruises resume via the Panama Canal and along the West Coast of South America to Ushuaia. N.B. This ship only, beginning in December 2021, will inaugurate the so-called Antarctic Bridge allowing passengers to fly the Drake Passage to meet the ship, the flight taking under two hours and avoiding possible rough weather and saving nearly four days travel time. The flight operates between Punta Arenas, Chile to King George Island, South Shetlands.
Silver Explorer in the icy poles. * Photo: Richard Sidey

Silver Explorer in the icy poles. * Photo: Richard Sidey

When to Go?

The vessels cruise in different regions of the world at the best time to visit: Galapagos is year-round, Antarctica between November and February, Northern Europe, Arctic Canada Alaska, Russian Far East and Japan in the summer, Southeast, East Asia, Indian Ocean and East Africa in the cooler months and the Pacific regions in the summer (winter in the Southern Hemisphere).

Cabins

Aboard the three, all rooms and suites have twin beds convertible to queens, sitting area and writing desk (some also have vanity tables), and marble bathroom with shower or tub; SILVER EXPLORER and SILVER CLOUD have the choice of Ferragamo, Bulgari or hypoallergenic bath amenities.

SILVER GALAPAGOS offers a local brand from Ecuador). Enjoy butler service, plush robe, slippers, choice of pillows, fine Pratesi bed linens (that Elizabeth Taylor apparently swore by), and a stocked mini-fridge.

All accommodations come with expedition binoculars, hair dryer, personal safe, flat screen TVs, on-demand movies, direct-dial telephone, and Wifi access. All ships offer cellular service based on availability.  Complimentary parkas are offered on Antarctica and Arctic voyages as well as other select sailings.

Of SILVER EXPLORER’s 66 all ocean-view suites, 24 of them measure 230 sq. ft. with windows. Another 8 at that size also have French balconies (sliding doors with narrow ledge for standing); 14 rooms are 154 to 192 sq. ft.. There are two Owner’s suites at 626 sq. ft. and a pair of 675-sq.-ft. Grand Suites, all with balconies. Another 16 large suites measure 351 to 460 sq. ft..

SILVER GALAPAGOS has 50 all ocean-view suites, with 24 of them measuring 210 to 250 sq. ft.; a dozen are 268 sq. ft. including balconies. There are four 361-sq.-ft. Silver Suites and 8 Deluxe Veranda Suites measuring 303 sq. ft., both with balconies.

SILVER CLOUD has 130 all ocean-view suites, with 24 of them with windows and measuring 240 sq. ft.; 32 are 295 sq. ft. including balconies; (1) 541 sq. ft. suite includes balcony; (2) 736 sq. ft 1-bedroom Royal Suites; (2) 736 sq. ft 1-bedroom Grand Suites on the deck above; and (1) 587 sq. ft 1-bedroom Owners Suite (the later four categories can be combined with neighbouring suites to become even larger). All have walk-in closets.

SILVER ORIGIN (Delivery 2020) has all suites located on two of its six decks. Five pairs are interconnected, and half can accommodate a third passenger. The lowest four cabin categories measure 325, 335 and 355 sq. ft.. then it on up to 536, 897, 1,025 and 1,722 sq. ft. All have sitting area,writing deck, walk-in wardrobes and floor to ceiling sliding glass doors out to the veranda.

Public Rooms

Aboard SILVER DISCOVERER the largest space is the 120-seat Explorer Lounge with wraparound windows for scenery views; this is the ship’s hub and place where lectures are held and where passengers cluster to read and chat. It has a bar at one end and a station for coffee and tea all day long. There’s an outdoor bar on the Sun Deck and a pool as well as plenty of seating. Below decks is a small gym, massage room and beauty salon.

SILVER EXPLORER has two windowed lounges for scenery viewing — the smaller Observation Lounge forward on Deck 6 and one deck below the larger Panorama Lounge at the stern, which is also the best place for pre- and post-dinner cocktails. A pianist provides background music. Adjacent to the Panorama Lounge is the cozy Connoisseur’s Corner for cigars and cognac. The comfortable 110-seat Theatre is where lectures and slide shows take place. The ship has a small library/Internet Café, boutique, small gym, and a spa with one massage room, a sauna/steam room and a beauty salon. There are two hot tubs at the stern of Deck 6.

SILVER GALAPAGOS has a small ocean-view gym, massage room, beauty salon, and a combo boutique/library. The 100-seat Explorer Lounge is the hub of the ship and the place were lectures and briefings happen. It has a high-tech AV system and a photo station with an iMac where you can download and edit your photos. The Piano Bar, with a resident pianist on hand, is the spot for pre- and post-dinner drinks, as well as afternoon tea.

SILVER WIND, the largest of the expedition vessels, offers the Explorer Lounge for lectures by the expedition staff, an aft Panorama Lounge and on the same deck, a forward Observation Lounge. A Connoisseur’s Lounge is for cigar smoking and cognac. Additionally, there is a library, beauty salon, spa , and a top deck jogging track. A changing room on the lowest deck prepares the passengers for exploring in Zodiacs and hiking ashore.

SILVER ORIGIN, the newest in the fleet has a forward observation lounge located on the second highest deck, the Explorer Lounge for presentations and leading out to an after outdoor lounge, basecamp, the staging area for boating the boats via the stern marina, and an outdoor lounge area on the highest deck.

Silver Galapagos gets this close to shore. * Photo: Silversea Cruises

Silver Galapagos gets this close to shore. * Photo: Silversea Cruises

Dining

On all four ships, continental and regional specialties — Galapagos Lobster à la Galapaguera anyone? — are served in the open-seating no-jackets required dining venues; the food level and scope aboard  SILVER EXPLORER and SILVER CLOUD are essentially the same as the rest of the fleet (SILVER GALAPAGOS, on the other hand, is bound by Ecuadorian laws and restrictions regarding food sourcing, so the menus can’t quite compete). In the main restaurants, it’s fine dining all the way on candle-lit tables set with crisp white linens and china. Each also has a more casual al fresco Grille restaurant that turns into a popular dinnertime spot for grilled fish and steaks and other goodies prepared tableside on a heated volcanic-rock plate; reservations are suggested. The larger SILVER CLOUD also has a Relais & Châteaux® restaurant and La Terrazza.

There are two restaurants on SILVER EXPLORER, the main one serves buffet-style breakfast and lunch, and a la carte dinners, while the smaller more casual Outdoor Grille seats up to 34 passengers for breakfast, lunch and bar service.

SILVER GALAPAGOS has two dining venues, the larger main Restaurant and the al-fresco Grille at the stern of Deck 6, which serves buffet-style breakfast and lunch. At dinner at the Grille, you can grill your own steaks and seafood or choose homemade pizza or lite fare.

SILVER CLOUD EXPEDITION has four dining venues: the larger more formal main restaurant; the al-fresco Grille on deck; a Relais & Châteaux® restaurant (for $40 extra per person); and La Terrazza, on the stern with wake-facing seating.

SILVER ORIGIN  provides The Restaurant for all three meals and The Grill high up on Deck 7 aft of the Observation Lounge.

Activities & Entertainment

The destinations are the main event, with naturalist-led excursions at least once and often several times a day; about 10 expedition team members sail on every voyage. On board there are lectures and slide shows about the destination, and otherwise passengers read, chat with new friends and gaze out at the stunning landscapes. Evenings before and after dinner, it’s drinks and conversation.

They all carry inflatable zodiac landing craft (SILVER EXPLORER has 8; SILVER GALAPAGOS 5; and SILVER CLOUD 18).

Along the Same Lines

Closest would be the Celebrity XPEDITION and Ponant’s LE BOREAL/L’AUSTRAL/LE SOLEAL/LE LYRIAL.

Contact

Silverseas Expeditions, 110 East Broward Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301; www.silversea.com, 800-722-9955

— HMS

 

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