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.


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 to the Antarctic Peninsula, a land mass that juts north of the actual Antarctic Circle.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.

South Shetland Islands – First Landfall

This cluster of two-dozen islands located just north of the Antarctic Peninsula is home to huge colonies of seabirds, penguins and seals and for research stations representing no less than a dozen countries. On some itineraries, a visit is scheduled to learn about the work performed and what an isolated life is like, especially during the dark winters.

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.


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.


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.


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



Lindblad Expeditions


Overseas Adventure Travel

Polar Latitudes (Arctic only)


Poseidon Expeditions

Quark Expeditions


Seabourn Expeditions

Secret Atlas (Arctic only)

Silversea Expeditions

Vantage World Travel

Viking (beginning 2022)

Vantage World

Windstar (Arctic only)

Zegrahm Expeditioins

quirkycruise bird



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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.

quirkycruise bird




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Poseidon Expeditions

Poseidon Expeditions

Poseidon Expeditions was founded in 1999 by Nikolay Saveliev as Poseidon Arctic Voyages. Registered in the UK, the company operated its first voyage in 2001 aboard the nuclear-powered icebreaker Yamal. Expedition voyages center on the Arctic region, including multiple annual departures in July and August sailing directly to the North Pole, as well as Antarctica and the British Isles.

The firm currently charters two fine ships, the deluxe expedition ship Sea Spirit and the 50 Years of Victory, nuclear-powered and the world’s most powerful icebreaker. The latter is a working ship at other times of the year, and she can break through 10 feet of ice (3 meters). In the printed brochure, members of expedition teams are featured right up front with brief bios and overviews of their expertise.

The Sea Spirit

The Sea Spirit. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions


Poseidon Expeditions is scheduled to resume sailing in May 2021.

Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.


Sea Spirit (built 1991 & 114 passengers) – Arctic & Antarctica

50 Years of Victory (b. 2007 & 128 p) – North Pole

Passenger Profile

Active people from Europe, Australia, Asia, the US and Canada, aged 45 and up. English is the primary language onboard.


$$ to $$$ Expensive to Super Pricey (North Pole expeditions)

Included features
  • One pre-voyage hotel night (most departures)
  • Transfers between airport and hotel, hotel and ship, and ship and airport
  • All meals
  • All regular excursions (Helicopter flights included for North Pole expeditions, but not flights to Murmansk to join/leave ship.)
  • Parkas with destination patches
  • Loan of Wellington boots for Zodiac landings
  • Digital voyage log
Spitsbergen (Svalbard) - Curious polar bear comes up to the bow of the ship. * Photo: Ted Scull

Spitsbergen (Svalbard) – Curious polar bear comes up to the bow of the ship. * Photo: Ted Scull


In the Arctic, Sea Spirit operates a program of 10- to 15-day expeditions in June and August/September that visit Iceland, including the Northern Lights, Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen (Svalbard); Spitsbergen and Franz Josef Land (Russia); Spitsbergen circumnavigations; and Iceland and east Greenland. Most expeditions feature photography (free) and kayaking (a fee). En route north for the Arctic season in May, the ship will embark in Plymouth, South of England and visit sites in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, ending at Leith, the port for Edinburgh.

A second cruise begins in early June at Leith and subsequently calls on Jan Mayen Island, and disembarking in Longyearbyen, Spitzbergen. After a series of Spitzbergen itineraries, the ship heads for Franz Josef Land, but also uses Longyearbyen as turnaround port for these explorations of the Russian archipelago of 191 islands.

At the North Pole, 50 Years of Victory operates three 13-day expeditions in July and the beginning of August to the North Pole starting with a pre-cruise hotel night in Murmansk (Russia) then boarding the ship to sail to the North Pole with a return via the uninhabited Franz Josef Land to look for polar bears and sea birds and stop at an abandoned meteorological station. All North Pole trips feature photography lessons and helicopter sightseeing (included), barbecue, and an optional polar plunge. Note: A Russian visa is required for this expedition.

In Antarctica, Sea Spirit spends a full season with departures from late October into late February undertaking 11-day Antarctica Peninsula cruises and several 20- and 21-day expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula, the Falklands, and South Georgia. One cruise crosses the Antarctic Circle to 66 degrees South — now that’s about as far south as it gets! Most cruises begin at Ushuaia, Argentina. Some Antarctica trips feature photography lessons (free), kayaking amongst the ice (a fee), and how about overnight camping on the White Continent (a fee).

camping in Antarctica

Camping, can you imagine! * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sample Itinerary

The 10-night “Realm of Penguins & Icebergs” cruise starts with an overnight in Ushuaia, Argentina. From there, the ship passes through the Beagle Channel and past the Tierra del Fuego islands before heading south to cross the Drake Passage for whale and sea bird watching. After crossing the Antarctic Convergence, the ship arrives at the South Shetland Islands for 5 days of exploration and then goes on to the Antarctic Peninsula to see wildlife and breathtaking scenery, stopping for shore excursions and adventures aboard Zodiacs and paddling sea kayaks. Afterwards, the ship heads back to Ushuaia.

Sea Spirit in Antarctica.* Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sea Spirit in Antarctica.* Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Why Go?

Few expeditions go directly to 90 Degrees North, where you can stand at the North Pole and be photographed from the air. The other destinations such as Greenland and South Georgia are little visited, and often arriving by ship is the best or only way.

Drop anchor and go ashore where roads and air access do not exist. If you want to feel that you are truly away from your normal routine, then one of the expedition-style voyages is for you.

When to Go?

The itineraries operate seasonally according to the most advantageous times of the year, so generally the Arctic Region in the summer and Antarctica in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer.

Poseidon Expeditions

50 YEARS OF VICTORY. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sustainability Initiatives

Poseidon Expedition ships employ wastewater, garbage and energy management systems that are in line with marine pollution prevention regulations. The ships do not use plastic straws and stirrers or single-use food packaging — shampoo and soaps in-cabin are in dispensers. Each passenger is given a reusable water bottle. Cleaning is done with eco-friendly products.

Activities & Entertainment

On Sea Spirit cruises, the principal emphasis is on outdoor activities relating to the destinations such as Zodiac trips in search of wildlife and for going ashore to local communities, beautiful locations and onto the ice with destinations such a penguin colony, and even the North Pole. On board, presentations and recaps tie in with what happens ashore. The ship is equipped with a gym and hot tub. During the evening hours, a pianist provides light entertainment.

50 Years of Victory is designed for long periods at sea, so the ship is equipped with a massage room, gym, two saunas and indoor saltwater pool heated with nuclear energy, and not often found, a basketball and volleyball court. The ship carries a helicopter on an after deck.

Excursions ashore in remote parts as well as activities such as kayaking and helicopter sightseeing are subject to weather and wind conditions.

Taking sight on a polar bear. * Photo: Ted Scull

Taking sight on a polar bear. * Photo: Ted Scull


Sea Spirit

This 114-passenger luxury expedition ship has five decks, all accessible via elevator. In 2019, Sea Spirit was refitted with a more effective set of stabilizers to reduce rolling while underway, drifting and even when anchored.

The main restaurant is on the lowest passenger deck and seats all at one sitting. The food is good, varied and as fresh as it can be when sailing in remote locations. In addition, an outdoor bistro serves lunch most days, and tables are arranged on the adjacent deck.

outdoor bistro

The outdoor bistro, and what a view! * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

All public rooms are located aft while suites are amidships and forward. The Presentation Lounge is set up for lectures and video presentations, and above that, the Club Lounge is for socializing, with a bar and an adjacent library lounge with books on exploration and wildlife and general reading, plus DVDs.

Club Lounge

The Club Lounge. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Outside deck space circles the ships so viewing locations span 360 degrees. Sea Spirit also has a Jacuzzi, gym, an infirmary and a bridge with an open policy to passengers.

All accommodations are designated as suites, all outside, and with dimensions of 215, 226, 248, 258, 323 and 463 sq. ft. The largest three categories have balconies. Twin beds convert to king-size.

Sea Spirit cabin

Sea Spirit twin cabin. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

In cabin: en suite, individual temperature control, TV with DVD player, phone (with satellite connection), refrigerator, safe, hair dryer, and complimentary WiFi.

Embarking into Zodiacs. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions.

Embarking into Zodiacs. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions.

50 Years of Victory

The most powerful icebreaker ever built works most of the year for scientific surveys and cargo purposes, but in summer months brings travelers to the North Pole in comfortable accommodations. Elevators link the four cabin and public room decks, but not the bridge, nor the pool and sauna located aft on the lowest of the six decks.

indoor swimming pool

The indoor swimming pool. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

There is a single restaurant accommodating all passengers at one sitting. The food service of international cuisine during the summer is prepared by a Swiss catering company. The crew is both Russian and from other European countries, but Poseidon’s expedition team are all English-speaking.

On one deck, the Victory Bar looks over the bow while, the library and lounge are just aft and the second lounge and bar are all the way aft and used for lectures and presentations. There is plenty of deck space for viewing.

Poseidon Expeditions bar

The bar aboard 50 Years of Victory. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

The bridge, often open to passengers, is a spacious additional focus to learn about navigation, chat with the officers and scan the horizon with binoculars for polar bears and walruses.

Cabins are located amidships and forward, all outside and originally designed for officers and top staff who would spend months aboard breaking ice, so there are desks and plenty of storage space. Windows open. The smallest are 151 sq. ft., while the rest range from 237-355 sq. ft.

In cabin: en suite, TV with DVD player. Suite categories have bathtub and fridge. (There is no Wi-Fi for passengers, though emails can be sent from the radio room.)

50 Years of Victory

The formidable 50 Years of Victory. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Special Notes

Read carefully what the line suggests you bring and don’t burden yourself with too much unnecessary luggage. Excursions ashore in these remote parts as well as activities such as kayaking and helicopter sightseeing are subject to weather and wind conditions.

Along the Same Lines

Polar Latitudes, Quark Expeditions, Noble Caledonia, Aurora Expeditions and Albatros Expeditions are in the same league with Poseidon.


Poseidon Expeditions;

London, UK —; +44 203 369 0020

US —; +1 (347) 801-2610

Check the website for additional offices in Germany, Cyprus and China.



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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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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



$$ to $$$  Expensive to Super Pricey

  • 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, USA 888-979-2061, UK 0.808.120.2333, Australia 800.812.855


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 August 2020, SILVER ORIGIN (92 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 be delivered on August 22, 2020 taking only 92 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


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.



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.


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).


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


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.


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



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The Polar Code

The Polar Code

QuirkyCruise’s Heidi Sarna had an e-chat about the Polar Code with Atle Ellefsen, Chief Naval Architect at the Oslo headquarters of DNV GL, a global foundation working in all business areas including ship classification and maritime advisory.

Heidi met Atle in 2000 at the Meyer Werft Shipyard in Germany, when Atle was director of new building for Royal Caribbean and Heidi was there to research a book she was writing about the line’s Radiance of the Seas, a big ship Heidi will always cherish.

Read more about Atle at the end of the post.

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

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

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

The Polar Code acknowledges that polar waters may impose additional demands on ships beyond those normally encountered.

The Polar Codes

Chief Naval Architect Atle Ellefsen, of DNV GL

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

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

The Polar Codes

Credit: DNV GL

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

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

Click here for more details on the Polar Code.

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

The Polar Code

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

Q: Who is responsible for enforcing the Polar Code?

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

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

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

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

The Polar Code

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

Atle Ellefsen: The Polar Code has developed over some 20 years. After years of discussions, in 2002 the IMO established the non-mandatory “Guidelines for Ships Operating in Arctic Ice-Covered Waters.” The intention was that these guidelines would cover Antarctica as well, but the Antarctic Treaty Parties (ATP) objected to IMO’s involvement, restricting the guidelines to Arctic waters.

This changed when the expedition vessel Explorer sank in Antarctica in 2007. With this, and an increasing awareness following a number of other accidents and near-misses in the Polar Regions, the ATP requested that the IMO extend the guidelines to Antarctica, which it did in 2010. The mandatory code was developed and finally implemented as the Polar Code in 2017.

Q: How does the Polar Code affect passenger ships?

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

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

The Polar Code requires that:

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

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

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

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

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

The Polar Code

Poseidon Expeditions in Antarctica. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

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

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

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

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

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

The Polar Code

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

More about Atle Ellefsen

Atle started designing ships as a teenager and his career path was laid out after graduating with a master’s degree in naval architecture and maritime technology from the University of Trondheim, Norway. A fellow member of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, he has worked in almost all areas of ship design, shipbuilding and management. He had his own design business for 10 years, and for six years he was Royal Caribbean’s newbuilding project director, developing and overseeing the cruise line’s projects in France and Germany.

Atle currently holds the position of chief naval architect in DNV GL maritime advisory, assisting ship-owners in devising new, innovative concepts; shipyards in improving capabilities; and financiers with due diligence on maritime investments. Working with top managers worldwide, he is a specialist on cruise ships and has in the last few years assisted the increasing number of owners and yards new to the cruise industry. Atle has three children, and in his spare time he enjoys dabbling in art and sailing his yacht.


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Arctic wildlife

By Anne Kalosh.

Seeing wildlife in its natural habitat is a major attraction for travelers to the Arctic, where a growing number of small ships venture. New Arctic wildlife guidelines from the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) help nature-lovers experience the fauna safely, without disturbing the birds and animals.

The guidelines translate expert knowledge about animal behavior into practical know-how for travelers to use in the field. For example, say you’re walking along a beach and suddenly an Arctic tern attacks. What should you do?

The guidelines explain the bird is probably trying to protect a nearby nest so you should retreat, moving away in the direction you came from. If you hold up a hand or your hat, the bird will aim for that instead of dive-bombing your head. Read about Ted’s close brush with a skua bird in Antarctica.

Besides advising about birds, theArctic wildlife guidelines tell travelers how to act around animals like walrus, seals, reindeer, Arctic fox, polar bears and cetaceans, including whales.

Arctic wildlife

Passengers observe a polar bear. New AECO guidelines give tips on watching, without disturbing, Arctic fauna. * Photo: Kelvin Murray, EYOS Expeditions

They’re great reading. Almost like a field guide, delve into 17 pages of informative notes and photos, with facts about each animal, its behavior, how to distinguish male from female, predators, recommended distances to keep from different species and signs that an animal is being disturbed.

“The goal of expedition cruising is to bring passengers close to nature, and it is important that we are responsible visitors,” said Frigg Jørgensen, executive director, AECO. “Our members have decades of experience in Arctic cruise tourism, and spotting birds and animals is often the highlight of the voyage. These wildlife guidelines are a way of systematizing the best practices of our members when it comes to responsible and considerate wildlife observations.”

The guidelines are mandatory for AECO members, including companies like Aurora Expeditions, Hurtigruten, Noble Caledonia, Lindblad Expeditions, Poseidon Expeditions, Quark Expeditions, Seabourn and Silversea, among many others.

The Arctic wildlife guidelines are available here.


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Polar Climate Change

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

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

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

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

Polar Climate Change

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

Polar Climate Change

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Polar Climate Change

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

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

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

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

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

Polar Climate Change

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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Richard White

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

Connect with him on instagram @richthebirder or


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

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

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


QC: What still makes you gasp in wonder?

Richard: A killer whale surfacing next to a Zodiac…

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

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

QC: How many trips have you taken to Antarctica?

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

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

So probably more than 25…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rafflesia plant. * Photo: Richard White

Rafflesia plant. * Photo: Richard White

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


QC: How many airline miles do you have?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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By Anne Kalosh.

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

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

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

Seatrade Expedition photo by AK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sawhney argued expedition cruising is fundamentally different from traditional cruising.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Read more about Antarctica small ship cruising here.

White on white, seeing a polar bear from the ship in the Arctic.

By Ted Scull.

First timers thinking about expedition cruises  to the Arctic, Antarctic, the Galapagos or remote South Pacific islands often come to this new venture with many questions and perhaps some anxiety about what it will be like.

Pushing through ice flows. * Photo: Ted Scull

Pushing through ice flows. * Photo: Ted Scull

Steve Wellmeier, a long-time veteran in the small-ship cruise industry who now focuses on polar cruising to the Arctic and Antarctica, has a few pointers to share.

Steve Wellmeier

Steve Wellmeier

Safe and sound

He finds novice passengers are often concerned about safety, especially in remote places, the ease of getting ashore, possible seasickness on the small ship, and whether there will be enough to do in places that seem so bleak regardless of how beautiful the brochure pictures look.

As expedition cruising has matured and grown into a significant niche in the cruise industry, Wellmeier says that, “Ship owners and charterers have responded to these worries by training the staff on board to elicit the passengers’ trust straight away.” That first meeting between them is crucial in creating a professional and personal relationship that will have the passengers gradually release their concerns and begin to thrive on their adventure.

As support, the ship officers and expedition staff have better hardware: improved radar and sonar for navigation and better weather forecasts that allow the ship to alter course to seek out smoother waters. A resources manual for the officers and staff gives them extra options about landing locations and what wildlife might be present.

That flexibility does not always apply to the Drake Passage crossing enroute to the Antarctic Peninsula, though the increasing number of small ships with fin stabilizers does lessen the movement in beam seas (waves coming broadside).

Some cute seals greet the NGEX. Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

Some cute seals greet the NGEX. Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

There’s little roughing it on an expedition cruise

In addition, many vessels now have more cruise ship amenities, better accommodations, improved food and high-tech features to elevate the overall experience.

Wellmeier says that, “Passengers coming from the bigger ships already have expectations about what they want in terms of comforts and variety of activities, and the newer breed of expedition vessel will likely satisfy them once they get used to the smaller size.” When it’s a 400- or 500-passenger ship, the difference won’t seem that great compared to a wee one that handles 100 to 200.

I personally find that small ships seem much larger and more complex once you are aboard compared to eyeing them for the first time as you approach the pier.

Ben Lyons

Ben Lyons

Smaller has great advantages, especially with the ease of going ashore in Zodiacs, not in relays of an hour for each group, but all at once to provide ample time to get the feel of your surroundings, perhaps populated by lounging seals and walrus or the endless antics of penguins that bring joy to all those around you.

That brings in Ben Lyons who is CEO of EYOS Expeditions, a firm that provides expedition staff and enhances itineraries for cruise vessels and private yachts, and is licensed as a ship’s captain.

Wildlife is the big draw

When I asked him what excites passengers when they first arrive in the Arctic or Antarctica, Lyons says that it’s the initial encounters with wildlife. “In Svalbard in the Arctic, it is approaching a polar bear on an ice flow, and if curious, watching it come slowly to the ship, sometimes close enough to be able look straight down on it from the bow.” Disciplined passengers will maintain complete silence.

White on white, seeing a polar bear from the ship in the Arctic. * Photo: Ted Scull

White on white, seeing a polar bear from the ship in the Arctic. * Photo: Ted Scull

In the Antarctic, it’s those funny-looking penguins, sometimes scores or even hundreds of them doing their wobbly walk or suddenly leaping from the ocean to land upright on the beach.

The connection to wildlife is an ongoing pleasure, but if ice is present and the ship has a sufficiently high ice class, then standing forward ahead of the ship’s bridge and watching the bow breaking through the ice fields leaves an indelible picture of the polar regions’ beauty.

The specter of bad weather

Lyons says: “Bad weather can put a damper on the cruise if passengers cannot get ashore for a day or so, but knowing the territory and relying on good navigational tools can give a captain the option to find a new area that is protected and suitable for going ashore or be surrounded by floating ice showing a range of colors and endless shapes.”

Check out these 250-foot ice flows in Antarctica. * Photo: Ted Scull

Check out these 250-foot ice flows in Antarctica. * Photo: Ted Scull

Basic to all expedition voyages, the expert naturalist staff can share their respective expertise at presentations that draw on personal experience and research and with high-tech tools that reveal the underwater world directly below the ship.

In a subsequent feature, we will look at the amazing devices some expedition ships now carry that enhance understanding of the land and sea all around you, and then how to participate in exciting ventures ashore or aboard a kayak in calm waters surrounded by nature’s silent beauty. Some lines offer an even bigger treat, going ashore to camp for a night on the Antarctic Peninsula. Wowser! We will also look at the new frontiers for expedition cruises, for example, the Northeast Passage north of Russia, Bering Sea and Raja Ampat archipelago in Indonesia.

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