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Polar Expedition Cruise

Polar Expedition Cruise Expert Steve Wellmeier

Quirky’s Ted Scull has an e-chat with with polar expedition cruise expert Steve Wellmeier, managing director for Poseidon Expeditions USA.

Polar Expedition Cruise

Steve Wellmeier and friends. Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

QuirkyCruise.com: Where were you born and how big was your family?

Steve W:  I was the fifth of six children in a Catholic family in Dayton, OH; strong German heritage and work ethic, as most of my grandparents migrated down in the late 19th century from farm country in central Ohio. In those days, all Catholic families were big!

We all had chores and responsibilities from an early age, helping out around the house, expected to share just about everything, encouraged to get summer jobs, and to learn the value of work and money.

QuirkyCruise.com: That’s pretty far from the sea, so when did you see your first ship, and any reaction?

Steve W:  It was a similar size paddle wheeler to the Delta Queen in Cincinnati that was used for daily and evening excursions, dinner parties, celebrations, etc. Can’t remember the name, but I do remember that the front deck near the waterline was the site of my first kiss ever with a girl, so it was memorable. The romance of the water!

QuirkyCruise.com: What was your educational background and how did it lead to you to a first job?

Steve W:  I loved reading — my siblings and I almost did it competitively (“how many books did you read this week?”) — so I’m not surprised I graduated from Saint Louis University with an undergraduate degree in English Literature. I liked it enough to apply to grad school, and was lucky enough to get a scholarship at the University of Cincinnati, where I was also a teaching assistant for a year. So, critical reading, the ability to synthesize and summarize, and writing were strengths that I was able to take into the job market.

For the first five years after grad school, I was a junior communications assistant and then manager with a publicly traded, diversified industrial corporation in St. Louis. The big thing that I came away from there with was an ability and interest in tackling just about any writing job that presented itself, and there was always something: annual report to shareholders, speeches for financial analysts, advertising copy, press releases, employee newsletters, brochure and direct mail copy for four different company divisions.

That ability to write in different voices to different audiences served me well, and still does.

QuirkyCruise.com: How did working for your first cruise line come about?

Steve W: In 1983, I was caught up in some layoffs resulting from a merger with a larger industrial company, but managed to walk away with a few months of severance pay.  A graphic designer I worked with told me there was a new start-up cruise operation, and that it was looking for a PR person. “Cruise operator in St. Louis?,” I asked. Sure enough, it was Clipper Cruise Line (CCL), which was being financed by Barney Ebsworth, the owner of the well-known and successful affinity tour operator, INTRAV.

Polar Expedition Cruise

Nantucket Clipper. * Photo: Ted Scull

He admired the business model created by Luther Blount, who along with Lars-Eric Lindblad, can probably be considered the two “fathers” of small ship cruising. Clipper’s shallow-draft vessels were designed to cruise the scenic Intracoastal Waterway, Chesapeake Bay, waters of New England and, in the winter months, the Virgin Islands.

I was the sixth employee hired, and was immediately in the thick of it not only with public relations, but advertising, direct mail — virtually anything that needed to be written.

Polar Expedition Cruise

Luther Blount’s NEW SHORHAM II. * Photo: Ted Scull

My success with Clipper came to some degree with my familiarity with direct mail in an earlier job, where we used SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) codes to target potential buyers of steel pipe and tubing. I used the same principles, but using travel magazine subscriber lists and other direct mail lists from SRDS that were widely available at the time, some of which included demographic and psychographic information about those on the lists.

While all this is child’s play in today’s digital marketing world, it was pretty cutting-edge stuff at the time. INTRAV had always done direct mail to affinity organizations like university alumni associations, but I was able to convince Paul Duynhouwer, my boss at the time, to take it in a different direction — direct mail to consumer lists; i.e. individual households with no affinity connection except that they had similar lifestyle interests, demographics, educational levels and so forth. I don’t believe anyone else in the cruise industry was doing this at the time.

QuirkyCruise.com: What did you like about working for a cruise line and especially for CCL?

Steve W:  The cruise industry was going through a big transformation in the mid-1980s. The traditional lines like Royal Viking, Cunard, Chandris, Sitmar, Sun Line and others were either going out of business or merging into conglomerates, and the rise of the mass-market operators like Carnival and RCCL was well underway.

Clipper was definitely a boutique operator in a niche segment of the industry, and I always liked “playing on the edges” of the industry as well as appreciating the diminutive size of Clipper and other operators of that ilk. We focused on our differences from the big boys, working hard to appeal to educated travelers more interested in the destination than the cruise ship as a floating entertainment palace.

Barney Ebsworth also had high standards, and the Clipper vessels were the finest small ships in the business, well, until Sea Goddess came along! But they didn’t last long, did they? Another thing I liked about Clipper was that we all built it from the ground up; we managed the operational side of the ships ourselves — catering, hotel, technical, engineering, bridge team, etc. Quite amazing when I think back on it.

We realized that one of the big draws was the young American crew — mostly college-age kids — with whom the guests really bonded. And the relaxed, unpretentious aspect of this type of cruising.

Polar Expedition Ship

New Shoreham II, Nantucket Clipper and Newport Clipper docked along the Intracoastal Waterway. * Photo: Ted Scull

QuirkyCruise.com: This is where I first encountered you when I came asking for a press trip, and what do you remember about that?

Steve W:  Initially, we worked with a PR firm from Miami, but that didn’t last long as its experience was with larger, mass-market operators like Carnival, and they didn’t really grasp the Clipper small ship concept. So, I took over and started dealing directly with the press inquiries.

That’s when you and I met, I believe, on the phone. Unlike most travel writers, the first words out of your mouth were not “Do you offer press trips?” Instead, you asked a lot of questions and I got the impression very quickly that you knew what you were talking about and were very interested in off-beat and different type of cruise experiences. You “got it.”

Somehow, our relationship evolved to semi-regular Friday afternoon chats where you would call me and lead off with a tough question to which — as I’m told by you anyway — I would answer with a long sigh…

The trouble with you is that I always had to actually think about the answer I was giving you, because you knew your business! But we didn’t actually meet in person until I left Clipper (the first time) in 1988 and moved to New York, your home base.

I honestly don’t remember exactly when you first traveled with Clipper or whether I was even involved in putting you aboard. But I’m sure you remember EXACTLY.

QuirkyCruise.com: How long did you stay at Clipper and what led you to move on?

Steve W:  Change of management of Clipper. Paul Duynhouwer, who was always my mentor in this business, left in 1987 to join Sven Lindblad as VP of marketing & sales at Special Expeditions in New York, precursor to Lindblad Expeditions. I left in 1988 to join TravLtips Cruise & Freighter Travel Association as director of marketing.

Polar Expedition Cruise

Lindblad’s Polaris first served as a Danish-Swedish ferry before being converted into an expedition ship. * Photo: Ted Scull

TravLtips was also in New York, but not on Fifth Avenue like Special Expeditions. I commuted out to Flushing, Queens every day on the LIRR. That was also an interesting 10 years, again “playing the edges” and marketing via segmented, targeted direct mail; not only freighter travel, but tall ships, barges, expedition ships and — in a big way — positioning cruises by the larger cruise operators.

In some ways, we were a remnant marketer, selling long cruises at a heavy discount to older travelers who had the discretionary income and time for such voyages.

QuirkyCruise.com: TravLtips concentrated on what types of cruises, ships and what did you like about that job.

Steve W:  Freighter travel was our specialty and our marketing “hook” to attract travelers into joining our “association” for $15 per year or $25 for two years. What a bargain! It wasn’t really an organization or association per se, but we would mail them a magazine every other month featuring articles written by fellow travelers about their freighter trips.

This first-hand point of view, providing details about freighter travel by the actual travelers gave TravLtips an “insider’s” reputation. The magazine was a gritty, two-color job with half-tone photographs provided by the travelers — Conde Nast Traveler it wasn’t! But people loved it.

We found that lots of our members — we generally had about 30,000 followers at the time — loved the idea of freighter travel, but it wasn’t quite right for many of them. So, we would book them on something else, like a positioning voyage at rates usually starting under $100 per day, the average freighter per diem back in the early ‘90s.

The fun with that job was turning around a direct mail promotional piece in a few hours, getting it in the mail and getting our share of the business before anyone else. We had our 30,000 followers all figured out in the database according to what they liked, who they had traveled with, could they go on short notice and so forth.

So, we could promise cruise operators that we could exactly target the segment that was right for them. It worked well enough that we could usually convince them to pay for the mailing. We weren’t greedy with the commission and would typically pass along some of it to the customer in the form of extra savings.

Again, this sort of segmented marketing is a given today with digital marketing tools, but these were early, exciting times with that sort of travel marketing in the cruise segment.

QuirkyCruise.com: Did you get to travel on any ships TravLtips booked such as Amazing Grace, Aranui or a windjammer and what did you think any about them?

Steve W:  Yes, although I should have taken advantage of more opportunities during those years. The Amazing Grace was the supply vessel that provisioned the Windjammer fleet of tall ships, departing from the Bahamas once a month and traveling two weeks down to Jamaica. Then two weeks back, meeting their sailing vessels along the way in both directions.

The Amazing Grace typically carried between 75-100 and it was a fantastic value. I was able to travel aboard her for 3-4 days and get a first-hand feel for the classically styled combination passenger and cargo ship. I also spent a week aboard one of Windjammer’s schooners.

Polar Expedition Cruise

Amazing Grace, a Caribbean supply ship for a windjammer fleet also carried cruise passengers. * Photo: Ted Scull

Perhaps the most memorable inspection trip while working at TravLtips was a week in the Canary Islands and Coast of Morocco aboard a ship called the Orient Express. It was a converted ferry vessel that was being marketed at the time by Bermuda Star Line.

The Canaries are not a big US destination during the winter months, although they’re popular with Europeans and definitely a place worth visiting. So, the ship was mostly filled with Germans, Spaniards and Scandinavians.

The night before disembarkation, the ship caught fire and we spent the rest of the night in our muster stations. The fire was contained to an upper deck restaurant area, but that didn’t do much to keep many of the guests from getting overly excited. I never felt like we were in danger.

Insofar as actually spending time on a freighter, that wasn’t so easy because the trips were so long and the ports relatively far between. But, we’d check them out when they came into the New York port area.

I was able to spend a few days aboard Ivaran Lines’ Americana between New Orleans and Houston and one of Blue Star Line’s 12-passenger freighters on a stretch between Halifax and Philadelphia.

Polar Expedition Cruise

The Norwegian container ship Americana carried up to 85 passengers between New York and the East Cost of South America. * Photo: Ted Scull

READ Part 2 here…. soon.

quirkycruise bird

 

 

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Dan Blanchard

Benefits of Small-Ship Cruising

By Heidi Sarna & Ted Scull.

We had an e-chat with Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures, about the benefits of small-ship cruising in the COVID-19 era.

QuirkyCruise: Why did you, along with David Allen of Alaskan Dream Cruises, launch the “US Small-Boat Operators Coalition?”

Dan Blanchard: Our exchange officially started March 3, 2020, as early indicators showed COVID-19 would have a growing effect on travel and that action would be needed. It matured into a larger conversation with other small boat operators to amplify their voice in Congress, help each other through this challenge and navigate the CARES Act. This included a need to carve out enhanced definitions for U.S. flagged ships in the federal government’s newly formed CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act.

There is a need for us to be defined separately and there have been many letters and conversations with Congress on our behalf that have worked in separating us from large cruise ships. Going forward we have an interest in both educating the public on the differences and getting involved in how the CARES act is being designated by the treasury.

I was the architect behind bringing the members of the coalition together. As a lifetime mariner and small-ship expedition pioneer, I’m dedicated to the ocean, adventure, and bringing meaningful travel to people from all walks of life.

Dan Blanchard

UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard

The seven coalition members are:

QuirkyCruise: What do you most want the traveling public to know and understand about the seven coalition members?  

Dan Blanchard: Every member of the coalition has been in the industry for some time; they are experts and dedicated to their brands. The formation of the coalition allows us to collaborate, to have more clout in governmental discussions, and to fly the flag for the small-boat operators in the U.S. The coalition members are working through an industry restart and we have more work ahead of us. But we are confident we will all be able to adapt to the changes.

QuirkyCruise: What makes small ships and boats different than the mega-ships of the mass market cruise lines?

Dan Blanchard: You won’t find a giant waterslide or several restaurants onboard our vessels because our waterslide is outdoors, snorkeling, or swimming with wildlife. Our dining is tailored to create a connection with other travelers in real conversations about the day’s hands-on adventure.

As a small-boat operator we are able to visit small ports, connect with local tribes and communities, provide a smaller travel footprint and provide a hands-on adventure experience that others can’t. People come to us because they want off-the-beaten-track exploration in an environment where everyone, including the captain, knows your name.

a small footprint is a benefits of small-ship cruising

Small ship cruising leaves a small footprint. * Photo: UnCruise

QuirkyCruise: What makes small vessels a good option when the general public is ready to travel on “cruises” again?

Dan Blanchard: We don’t say small is better than big, as there is a market for both. A voyage aboard one of our vessels is a very different experience than the traditional idea of cruising.

  • In contrast to large ships, we are able to have a lot more diversity in our itineraries. We like to say our itineraries can change on weather, whales, or whim.
  • We are easily accommodated in small ports and communities with an advantage of our local partnerships and we can also hunker down in our favorite secret adventure spots. We are all about wild Alaska and being with the critters.
  • With the new era of travel, our smaller company is able to pivot quickly in critical moments and make decisions throughout our operations that will benefit our crew and guests going forward.
  • When guests are ready to step back into travel, our vessels offer the ability to stay in the wilderness, which eliminates exposure to large crowds, shoppers, or virtually anyone outside the small group of 22-86 guests onboard.
  • Our small number of passengers and crew onboard, means we operate in a contained environment aboard and with a dedicated American crew completing high-frequency sanitation rounds.
  • We are utilizing real-world applications of social-spacing and are reviewing opportunities for available testing for guests and crew on the day of departure.

RELATED: UnCruise Adventures in Alaska. by Judi Cohen

QuirkyCruise: How do you aim to redefine the small boat industry?

Dan Blanchard: We understand it won’t be the same market going forward and that we have an opportunity to explore new ways of doing things here. That includes educating the consumer about small-boat adventure travel.

While this will continue to be fluid, the coalition has allowed us a platform to be heard and distinctly defined. This is vital for the small-boat industry going forward to rebound and recover.

QuirkyCruise: What language do you want to see being used to describe small boats like the ones that make up the coalition? How do you want to be seen and perceived by the traveling public?

Dan Blanchard: One of the initial interests in developing the coalition was to focus on a voice for micro-ships. We also include terms such as boutique yachts and small boats. Here at UnCruise Adventures we also like to think of ourselves as a sea lodge. A place to hunker down in a quiet cove or fjord and wake up to experience our up close and personal outdoor operations.

We look to help the traveling public understand the range of different small boat categories, including specialist expeditions and adventure itineraries with naturalist guides like ours.

kayaking on a small ship

Kayaking is a big part of the small-ship experience. * Photo: UnCruise

QuirkyCruise: Do you not want to use the word “ship” or “cruise” at all? Why?

Dan Blanchard: We have specifically steered away from the term ships to lessen the confusion of the general public who may not be familiar with boutique yachts and small-boat adventure travel.

While we do “cruise,” we don’t fit into the industry’s current description of cruise lines and that has become more obvious during these times of COVID-19.

Instead of focusing on the negative we highlight the positives and during this time more travelers are finding us because of the media negativity around large ships, and have come to us looking for education on new travel options. This opens up the opportunity for new discussions and alternatives for travelers.

RELATED: An UnCruise Expedition in Hawaii.  by John Roberts

QuirkyCruise: The CDC’s no-sail cruise moratorium applies to passenger vessels 250 passengers and above, why did you voluntarily cease operations when the big lines did?

Dan Blanchard: For UnCruise, the decision to temporarily suspend operations included direct conversations with local officials, postponed bookings and mandatory quarantines affecting sail dates.

QuirkyCruise: When do you realistically see the 7 members operating itineraries of any kind?

Dan Blanchard: I’m sure we are all hopeful for the 2020 Alaska season, but are looking at things realistically and assessing them daily. The coalition members are not currently operating on coordinated departures, but each will gauge their departure viability individually.

UnCruise Adventures is currently scheduling to resume operations mid-July in line with current state and governmental mandates. This continues to be reviewed daily, and we will continue to update our guests with changes. Alaska is one of our most popular itineraries during the summer months to capture the pristine beauty of remote places and wildlife. We look forward to being out there again.

QuirkyCruise: What protocols will be in place?

Dan Blanchard: Many onboard protocols involving sanitation, cleaning, food service and taking temperatures will be implemented for all guests and crew. In addition, PPE gear for certain activities such as boarding kayaks and skiffs, will be added to ensure safety.

QuirkyCruise: When cruise operations resume and booked passengers are allowed to enter the US and other countries (for instance, Mexico, Latin America/Ecuador) to board your vessels, how will you know if they have been vetted for communicable diseases? What would the hypothetical procedure be?

Dan Blanchard: This is a more multifaceted question and answer than it seems on the surface and one we are vetting with our partners in each of our destinations. This may in part be determined by local legislation and protocols for foreign passengers. We are looking at availability of rapid testing prior to boarding.

QuirkyCruise: What information do you think will be needed before they board at certain ports?

Dan Blanchard: This again will be determined more locally in addition to our advanced priority measures internally and across our fleet.

QuirkyCruise: Obviously, you have had to deal with passengers who become ill aboard your vessels for a whole host of reasons, but will you need to do anything different for potential COVID-19 incidences?

Dan Blanchard: We have protocols in place for illness and emergencies and will continue to look at rapid testing, and what will continue to evolve with pre-vaccine and post-vaccine modifications.

UnCruise Adventures has a talented team of captains, crew members and onboard EMTs, along with a highly experienced executive and operations team to support potential challenges. And in contrast to other adventure operators, we sail in the wilderness with no exposure to outsiders during most voyages themselves. [QC Note: Most sailings are round-trip from Juneau or between Juneau and Sitka, where there of course are other people.]

QuirkyCruise: Do you want to have some testing kits aboard that your trained first-aid crewmember can use if some symptoms are manifested?

Dan Blanchard: We are looking at all options for availability of approved testing for our guests and crew and have had recent discussions with Alaska’s representatives on rapid COVID-19 testing priority for U.S.-flagged small boat operators.

QuirkyCruise: If the result is positive, what will be your action if the vessel is in Glacier Bay or Mexico’s Sea of Cortes?

Dan Blanchard: These would be in line with our emergency protocols already in place including emergency evacuation if needed. We have isolation cabins set aside, and a guest or crew would be isolated in this situation. Anyone running a temperature, for any reason, would be isolated and if deemed a concern would be tested. Evacuation depends on the level of severity.

Of course, guests will be expected to be traveling in good health and will be asked to comply with our pre-embarkation procedures and onboard sanitization and safety measures.

QuirkyCruise: If it’s the common flu, or specifically COVID-19, what steps will be taken on board that vessel?

Dan Blanchard: We’ve always taken health and safety onboard all of our vessels seriously. As with the common flu or any infectious disease, we have isolation protocols for anyone who shows signs of possibly having an illness. This will be heightened for COVID-19.

Additionally, we sail with sufficient PPE gear to accommodate all guests and crewmembers if this situation arises. We will introduce additional advanced sanitization, new physical distancing guidelines and a thorough 360-degree cleaning approach to provide our guests with a comfortable experience every step of the way.

QuirkyCruise: Let’s say the ill passenger upon reaching the hospital is tested positive for a communicable disease, do you (HQ and the ship) automatically get a report?

Dan Blanchard: We are in constant contact with our Seattle HQ regarding any information around a guest’s needs from our vessels. Communication and decision making are immediately coordinated across teams. We have daily vessel reports as a common practice along with emergency and contingency protocols.  

QuirkyCruise: Will you add any new information on your website for passengers who may have medical questions before they decide to book or not?

Dan Blanchard: This information will be updated to our website as new information arises and will address the top FAQ’s. We already spend a decent amount of time working with guests prior to any departure to learn about their trip motivation, endurance/agility/energy levels, and needs of each experience seeker individually.

Additional measures will include required information and questionnaires on personal health, and we are continually looking at approved testing availability to include in our protocols.

 

 

More about Captain Dan Blanchard from UnCruise.com

“We’ve all heard a tall tale or two, but when it comes to Captain Dan Blanchard — well, he’s the real thing. Growing up in Washington State, he has always been around boats. Even as a kid, Dan worked restoring the family’s wooden tug. And the reward of all that hard work paid off in a big way — he has spent a lifetime exploring winding waterways, beachcombing, skin diving, and sailing the world in search of incredible wildlife and cultural encounters.

Dan is a natural storyteller (2012 winner of Seattle’s annual “Stories of the Sea” contest), and who better to tell stories than an enthusiastic skier, cyclist, hiker, sailor, and world-explorer of off-the-chart places? One who fell in love with nature and the wilds of Alaska and beyond. In 2013, he was adopted into a native Alaskan Tlingit tribe, whom we still visit on UnCruise itineraries to this day.

Dan’s unassailable career began early. He was a Sea Scout, earned honors as Regional and National Boatswain when he was 16, and received his Master’s Ships License at 18. He owned Blanchard Marine; captained sightseeing vessels at Glacier Bay Lodge in Alaska; and grew through the ranks from captain to director of marine operations to VP of operations at Cruise West.

In 1999, he joined American Safari Cruises. Dan acquired the company in 2008 and as CEO, launched InnerSea Discoveries, now known as UnCruise Adventures with a new style of small-boat expeditions specializing in active adventures on the water. He’s living the dream and wouldn’t have it any other way. As a lifetime mariner, it can’t get much sweeter for Dan with both of his kids working in the business beside him — it’s safe to say it’s in their genes too.”

 

 

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

Antarctica Cruising with Abercrombie & Kent

By John Roberts.

This cruise was going to be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. That much was known.

The rest was a mystery to me.

As the date for our Antarctica voyage with Abercrombie & Kent drew closer [Jan 2020], it started to sink in that I was going to finally get to explore this faraway place.

And I was equally excited to share this adventure with my wife, Colleen. We did tons of research on what we should pack, how the sailing conditions would be and what we could expect to see. It seems that every voyage is different and takes on its own personality, and the accounts or pieces of advice that we gleaned from friends and the Internet ahead of the trip pointed to the fact that each expedition is unique.

This proved to be absolutely true.

John & Colleen share a trip of a lifetime.

Antarctica is a magical, scarcely visited place, and we would have the privilege of spending a couple weeks in the rugged locations that had spawned so many tales of adventure.

We would be following in the wake of explorers like Roald Amundsen and Sir James Clark Ross and tracing the footsteps of legends like Sir Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott.

It’s as unspoiled as any place in the world and a destination that continues to inspire today’s ambitious travelers.

So, our excitement occupied a great deal of our emotions. But I also was concerned about packing the right gear and felt a bit of pressure to ensure I had good enough camera equipment to be able to capture memorable images of the animals and landscapes that I was about to encounter.

Then, there is the sailing itself. I have cruised more than 80 times, and I’ve never battled seasickness. I had heard about the Drake Passage, though, from several friends who have made the trip. This stretch of waterway must be crossed from our departure port of Ushuaia, Argentina, in order to reach the White Continent.

The passage is an unpredictable area that connects the southwestern Atlantic Ocean with the southeastern edge of the Pacific Ocean just above the Southern Ocean. This area between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands can get quite turbulent and test the constitution of even the most well-weather old sailor.

RELATED: Ted Talks about the Roughest Seas in the World.

So, we had that to look forward to.

It’s the pursuit of adventure, excitement and a sense of the wild and unknown that attracts cruisers to Antarctica.

We were thrilled to get our chance on an expedition with Abercrombie & Kent on the luxury ship, the Le Lyrial from French cruise line Ponant. Our trip started in Buenos Aires just before New Year’s and lasted three weeks.

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Le Lyrial in Drygalski Fjord

Le Lyrial in Drygalski Fjord. * Photo: John Roberts

Antarctica Cruising: With Abercrombie & Kent

Abercrombie & Kent is a boutique outfitter that has been a leader in highly curated luxury travel experiences for five decades. A&K first made its name with African safari expeditions in the 1960s, and the company now leads small-group journeys all over the world.

The company has partnered with Ponant on expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica. A&K charters the ships and provides the cruise director and expedition guides, and Ponant crewmembers operate the luxury 199-passenger vessel. Passengers are treated to luxurious amenities, attentive staff and all-inclusive food and drinks.

Antarctica Cruising: An Overivew

Our all-inclusive “Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands” adventure comprised four nights pre-cruise in a luxury Buenos Aires hotel in Argentina, 15 nights on board Le Lyrial, and one final hotel night in Ushuaia.

We flew to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, and from there boarded a charter flight to Ushuaia, the port city at the southern tip of South America’s Patagonia region.

In Ushuaia, we had a few hours before boarding the 199-passenger Le Lyrial. We met a few A&K guides who checked in our group and hosted a lunch at a lodge on a scenic hilltop overlooking the city. After a quick buffet meal, groups headed out for a short hike in the neighboring forest.

Once we boarded the ship, we spent three days sailing toward Antarctica. Then it was three days amid the islands and on the continent, stopping at Danco Island, Neko Harbour, Cierva Cove, Mikkelsen Harbor, Yankee Harbor and Aitcho Islands.

We cruised two more days to get to South Georgia Island, where we would head ashore for three more days of exploration, visiting Fortuna Bay, Grytviken, Drygalski Fjord, Salisbury Plain and Elsehul. After that, we sailed for four straight days to return to Ushuaia to begin our journey back home. (We were originally scheduled to visit the Falkland Islands, but weather disrupted our plans and our captain adjusted — more to come on that!)

Antarctica cruise map

The 21-day Antarctica expedition from A&K aboard Ponant’s Le Lyrial. John & Colleen did the route counterclockwise.

With so many seas days in the itinerary, we were fortunate to be sailing on a well-accoutered ship filled with posh amenities, delightful staffers and gourmet cuisine.

That’s the overview of this 20-night journey. Let’s have a more-detailed look at what we did and everything we got to see.

Antarctica Cruising: Summer in South America

A&K offers pre-cruise extension options to spend time in Buenos Aires or take a trip to Iguazu Falls, spectacular falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil. We would end up with about 170 passengers cruising on our expedition, and about 30 of them did the Iguazu Falls add-on. We met a couple who raved about it.

We chose four days in Buenos Aires, as did about 100 others. A&K’s host hotel for the trip is the historic Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, which is conveniently located in the heart of the elegant La Recoleta neighborhood.

Park Hyatt Buenos Aires

The nearly century-old historic Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires. * Photo: John Roberts

This put us within strolling distance of many of the city’s top attractions, and we took advantage. The end of December is the heart of summer in the southern hemisphere, and it was fabulous to shed our winter coats and walk around the city in the nearly 80-degree temps.

During our time in Buenos Aires, we had a few days of free time and one day where we joined an organized city tour that was included in our A&K program. Colleen and I went for a couple of runs and long walks around the city and noted plenty of pretty urban parks. We also made sure to hit up a couple restaurants to dig into the delicious cuisine including empanadas, and, of course, the savory steaks.

Buenos Aires before an Antarctica cruise

One of John and Colleen’s Buenos Aires runs.

We also made sure to wander through La Recoleta Cemetery. This is one of the most scenic and visited burial sites in the world. More than just a cemetery, La Recoleta resembles a peaceful park, with thousands of graves and ornate tombs connected by winding walkways, trees and plants. The gravesites honor the dead with beautiful carvings and stained-glass accents.

On our city tour with A&K, a guide brought us to points of interest like Plaza de Mayo, which is a main hub of the city and features the Pink Palace residence of the president, as well as the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Buenos Aires touring

The Pink Palace residence of the president. * Photo: John Roberts

The main Catholic church in Buenos Aires is filled with gorgeous altarpieces, statues and stained-glass windows and is where Pope Francis used to perform mass when he was known as Archbishop Joseph Bergoglio, before he became pope in 2013.

Our pre-cruise time in Buenos Aires included a wonderful New Year’s Eve dinner at our hotel restaurant. The festive event put us in just the right frame of mind, ringing in another year before we embarked on a special cruise that had been on our wish list for quite a while.

Antarctica Cruising: Heading South

After a three-hour charter flight, our large group assembled to board buses and head to a lodge in Ushuaia for lunch, hiking and free time before the ship was ready for us. We finally boarded Le Lyrial in the late afternoon, and you could feel the excitement building for our expedition.

Once on the ship, we knew we had a few days to get settled in before we would reach Antarctica. This would allow us time to get our room organized, unpack clothes and gear, check out the ship amenities, and meet our fellow cruisers as well as the crew and guides.

Antarctica cruise gear

The gear issued at the start of the cruise. * Photo: John Roberts

Antarctica Cruising: The Ship

Le Lyrial is an elegant, modern ship with seven decks. All cabins have ocean views and most offer balconies. In ours, suite #406, we enjoyed our balcony, which I consider a must-have feature when sailing in Antarctica.

Suite with balcony in the Antarctic

A standard balcony suite aboard Le Lyrial. * Photo: Ponant, François Lefebvre-1

We spotted all kinds of landscapes, glaciers, ice formations, whales, seabirds and other wildlife simply by stepping out into the fresh air a few strides from our bed.

VIDEO: John gives you a tour of his cabin, #406, below:

The ship has a large spa that offers a range of treatments like massages, facials, and nail and hair services. The fitness center is nearby with treadmills and bikes as well as a weight-training machine. The facility also features a hammam steam room.

A large photo shop allows passengers to book portraits or purchase pictures taken by the ship’s staff of professional photographers. They also shoot a slickly edited video that recaps the entire trip, and that is available to buy.

Le Lyrial’s main theater is home to the enrichment talks, and the program offers movie nights throughout the cruise that you can view on the big screen.

Ly Lyrial lecture on an Antarctica cruise

One of the many enrichment talks in the main theater. * Photo: John Roberts

The lounge is the hub of the ship’s activity. It offers couch seating around the perimeter as well as chairs and tables, so you can sit and gaze through the windows and enjoy the views. This is where passengers spend the majority of their time, chatting throughout the day, reading books, keeping busy with knitting, and ordering beverages from the friendly bar staff.

Ly Lyrial Observation lounge

The observation lounge. * Photo: John Roberts

In the morning, we assembled to put on our gear in the lounge and lined up to get into the Zodiacs, which were reached by heading through the lounge and out onto the back deck before going down to the marina.

Live music was performed by a duet in the lounge, which also has a large dance floor. Passengers also flocked here in the afternoons for tea time — a daily event that offered special accompaniments like tapas, macarons, crepes or ice cream. The ship also features two restaurants: the main dining room, Le Celeste, called a gastronomic restaurant, and the more casual La Comete, a buffet-style grill eatery located on Deck 6 and open to the pool deck. You can also get 24-hour room service.

We tended to eat breakfast in the main restaurant on Deck 2 and dinner at the buffet eatery. The cuisine included a mix of French cuisine and international favorites, such as duck confit, seasoned lamb tenderloins and scallops. We also loved the carving station that featured items like fish, a whole pig, turkey and roast beef.

Le Lyrial in Antarctica

The main dining room. * Photo: John Roberts

Antarctica Cruise with Ponant

Iberico ham at tea time. * Photo: John Roberts

The menu also includes everyday favorites like burgers, chicken breast, mashed potatoes, green beans and french fries. The buffet eatery has a salad bar with plenty of selections. Of course, the wine is free flowing, and most passengers downed several glasses during lunches and dinners.

“The ship itself was very comfortable and cozy — easy enough to explore most nooks and crannies, including visiting the bridge,” said David Marcus, a passenger traveling with six family members. “The food was very good, but way too much. We basically had a floating buffet for the entire trip.”

The pool is heated and has a deep end and shallow end. This makes it great for a relaxing soak, and we took advantage on a sunny day at Neko Harbour in Antarctica. We were joined by several new friends, getting acquainted over cocktails and soaking up the sunshine. (Note: Apply sunscreen. Even the sun in Antarctica can burn.)

Hottub soak in Neko Harbour

A refreshing Neko Harbour soak for John! * Photo: Colleen McDaniel

VIDEO: Follow John on a ship tour of Le Lyrial, below.

Antarctica Cruising: The Beginning

As we pulled away from Ushuaia, we saw a couple of Silversea ships returning from their expeditions. I wondered about all that they had seen and what we would be experiencing over the course of our 14 days sailing around in these remote regions.

Guides and passengers gathered on the aft pool deck area and other outside spaces. Feeling the chill in the air and the winds whipping as we sailed, most of us had already started wearing the red parkas that A&K provided for the trip. Throughout the journey, our group roaming onshore would stand out in bright contrast to the green grasses or white snow.

the deck Le Lyrial in Antarctica

Guides in yellow and passengers in red chatting on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

We were outside right away as we started the sailing. The guides encouraged us to check out the sea birds flying nearby and learn how to identify an albatross from a petrel. We also saw dolphins and a few penguins swimming in the waters.

These were the first glimpses of what would become an incredible display of wildlife in the coming weeks.

The ubiquitous albatross in Antarctica

The ubiquitous albatross. * Photo: Claudia Kirchberger from Pixabay

Antarctica Cruising: Sea Days

During the sea days heading down to the White Continent, Abercrombie & Kent’s program kept us engaged.

To get prepared for the trip, we had the obligatory safety and biosecurity briefings. We learned the procedures that we would use during the voyage to ensure that we wouldn’t adversely affect the environments that we visited.

The main protocol had us washing our boots in a tub of antiseptic called Virkon each time we left the ship and upon our return. I was pleased to see how meticulous the process was to make sure we keep these special places pristine. This meant scrubbing off any trace of penguin poop and picking off even the smallest rock or seed from our pants, gloves, backpacks and jackets.

Antarctica excursion boots

The cleaned boots set outside the cabin to await the next adventure. * Photo: John Roberts

The program was also filled with at least a couple of enrichment talks each day in the ship’s main theater. The expert guides gave talks on the history of the region, as well as the wildlife, with specific topics covering mammals or seabirds or penguins.

There were two photo experts onboard as well, a pair who conducted regular talks in the theater. These well-known photographers, Rick Sammon and Richard Harker, gave excellent tips for capturing memorable pictures and also carved out time to sit in the lounge and meet with especially avid shutterbugs who wanted to show their daily captures and get feedback or learn how to use editing programs.

Antarctica cruising

Rick Sammon’s photography talk. * Photo: John Roberts

© Rick Sammon Antarctica ice

Stunning ice formations. * Photo © Rick Sammon

Enrichment talks are scheduled on sea days and days when visiting a port. We had 170 passengers on our voyage, and regulations place a limit of 100 passengers ashore at a time. Therefore, we were divided into two groups, and we alternated the times when we would go ashore each day.

For example, if we went out at 8 a.m. one day, we would be the 9:45 a.m. group on the next. We would have afternoon and morning shore landings or skiff tours, and this left time for attending talks (or napping!) while the other group was ashore and we were waiting our turn.

Antarctica expedition cruise with Ponant

Climbing in and out of zodiacs is business as usual on an Antarctica cruise. * Photo: Ponant

The daunting Drake Passage had to be crossed on the way down, and this period of sailing presented a certain mystique for most of the passengers, many who were on their very first cruise. I had heard plenty about how the rough waters of the Drake Passage are on another level when it comes to cruising.

So, it was with a mix of relief and slight disappointment that we had an especially smooth crossing. In fact, our experienced captain, Patrick Marchesseau, said it was one of the gentlest crossings of the Drake he had experienced.

The calm waters allowed us to get outside to watch the albatross and other seabirds that would swoop alongside the ship and follow the breezes above our wake.

Antarctica on deck

Guides and passengers mingling on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

We soon arrived to the waters just off the Antarctic continent. The excitement onboard was palpable as we noticed small chunks of ice beginning to float past as we got closer and closer to the islands that we would be visiting for our first forays ashore.

Antarctica Cruising: Sightseeing Adventures in Antarctica

Danco Island

We were in the early group for going ashore at our first destination: Danco Island. I popped out of bed and slid open the glass door and went onto the balcony to see the island, which has a wide sloping cobble beach. I could see gentoo penguins swimming the waters carrying out their fishing activities.

After breakfast, we all gradually geared up and made it down the hallways toward the main lounge.

We were a fine regiment of adventurers, with red parkas as our uniforms and waterproof pants swishing with every energetic stride.

We loaded into Zodiacs and set off to the island. As we approached, the sounds and smells grew louder and sharper. The squawks of penguins and the pungent smell of guano would fill our senses for much of the next 10 days as we visited daily with amazing creatures of Antarctica and South Georgia.

At Danco Island, we traversed the gentle slope of a snow-covered field and watched a colony of delightful gentoos wander up and down a “penguin highway” carrying out their tasks. It was our first close encounter with these endearing animals, and we were all transfixed.

penguins in Antarctica

The “Penguin Highway.” * Photo: John Roberts

“You have the opportunity to interact with the wildlife in one of the most pristine areas of the world,” Dr. Patri Silva Rodriguez said. “Here, they are not scared at all of us, and you can have the best time of your life watching them.”

The temps were mild and the sun started to shine as we wandered back down to the beach to see a Weddell seal resting on a perch, blissfully tolerating the gathering crowd as more penguins plunged into the water to start a hunt. Others waddled out of the surf and past the humans.

We were giddy to be able to witness the whole scene.

The morning at Danco Island set us off and running with memorable experiences.

Antarctica cruising zodiac

Leaving Danco and heading back on board. * Photo: John Roberts

Neko Harbour

In the afternoon, it was a hike to the top of a hill above Neko Harbour. We had officially made it onto the continent during this outing, and several travelers celebrated reaching their seventh continent. One group of friends unfurled a Canadian flag and snapped some pics at the summit to mark the accomplishment.

It was Colleen’s seventh continent and my sixth (I’m missing Australia as of this writing).

Neko Harbour on an Antarctica cruise

A hike to the top of a hill above Neko Harbour afforded a great shot of Le Lyrial. * Photo: John Roberts

The afternoon brought higher temps, and along with the challenge of hiking up the hillside and through steep snow, meant that we were generating even more heat. Most of us stripped off our parkas and enjoyed the sunshine while moving up and down the hillside and past large nesting areas of gentoo penguins.

Le Lyrial was picture-perfect in the harbor, and a few of us took advantage of the favorable conditions to settle into the heated pool once we were back onboard. We ordered some drinks and enjoyed a couple hours with new friends amid the most stunning backdrop you can imagine.

While we were just becoming casually familiar with the penguins and seals at this point, we soon would become experts on their behaviors in the coming days.

Neko Peak

From Neko Peak. * Photo: John Roberts

Cierva Cove

We took a skiff tour in Cierva Cove the next morning. Here, our driver Augie navigated around gorgeous blue ice formations that bobbed in the calm waters.

Cierva Cove in Antarctica

Wispy clouds over the twin peaks of Cierva Cove. * Photo: John Roberts

We saw gentoo and chinstrap penguins, as well as a leopard seal swimming and a crabeater seal relaxing on a floating piece of ice.

 crabeater seal in the Antarctic

An adorable crabeater seal at Cierva Cove. * Photo: John Roberts

Mikkelsen Harbour

In the afternoon, it was Mikkelsen Harbour. The beach was filled with bleached whale bones, a marker of the former whaling industry that proliferated in the region. Also spotted: more penguins and seals. Of course.

Mikkelsen Harbour

Mikkelsen Harbour where the whaling industry once thrived. * Photo: John Roberts

South Shetland Islands

Our final day in Antarctica brought us to the South Shetland Islands, where we went ashore at Yankee Harbor in the morning and Aitcho Islands for the afternoon. Conditions had grown a little wet and blustery, but we enjoyed seeing the different landscapes and habitats where the animals lived. It was amazing to see how much the elephant seals and penguins are thriving in these environments.

Yankee Harbor View on an Antarctica cruise

Plenty of penguins in Yankee Harbor. * Photo: John Roberts

gentoo penguins in Antarctica

Gentoo penguins feeding on the Aitcho Islands. * Photo: John Roberts

elephant seals in Antarctica

Elephant seals doing their thing. * Photo: John Roberts

Back on Le Lyrial for lunch between our two outings, the crew treated us to a special “Southernmost Barbecue Lunch,” to fuel up on hearty comfort food and commemorate our special place in the world — marking a latitude below 62 degrees south. Cooks grilled up burgers, chicken, hot dogs and pork out on the pool deck.

After our time in Antarctica, we had three more sea days on the schedule before we would reach the South Georgia Islands, which we were told would be filled with an even more stunning population of penguins, seals and other birds.

It was good that we had some time to rest up for another set of exciting and active days out in nature. We needed to fully process and appreciate what we had just experienced — up-close encounters with fascinating creatures and a stunning landscape that few travelers are fortunate enough to see.

While sailing toward South Georgia, we spent our time on Le Lyrial getting in a daily workout in the small gym. It was always fairly busy in the mornings, with a group of regulars who all like to keep fit and active, too.

Colleen and I also scheduled a massage and enjoyed a couple post-workout sessions in the hammam. We found this steam room to be quite rejuvenating and an unexpected treat for an expedition ship.

Antarctica Cruising: South Georgia Islands

South Georgia is a British Overseas Territory, and we enjoyed three packed days taking in all the sights, sounds and history available during our stops at Fortuna Bay, Grytviken, Drygalski Fjord, Salisbury Plain and Elsehul.

Fortuna Bay is home to a large colony of king penguins, and we were all delighted to meet these majestic creatures, which are much larger and with their own set of behaviors compared with the gentoos and chin straps with which we had grown so friendly over the prior week.

Fortuna Bay Antarctica

Gorgeous Fortuna Bay. * Photo: John Roberts

penguins of Fortuna bay

The treasures of Fortuna Bay. * Photo: John Roberts

Salisbury Plain sits in the wildlife-rich area on the north coast known as the Bay of Isles, and this spot is home to one of the largest king penguin colonies in the world. We all eagerly snapped photos, as we witnessed the birds feeding young, nesting and caring for eggs, swimming out and returning back from the sea for fishing forays.

We also saw plenty of penguins in the middle of their crucial molting process to refresh their plumage.

King Penguins in Antarcica

Molting Kings. * Photo: John Roberts

Salisbury Plain

Stunning Salisbury Plain. * Photo: John Roberts

Large colonies of fur seals and other seals also share these precious places with the penguins. In fact, 95 percent of the world’s five million fur seals are on South Georgia, and we saw massive colonies of sub-adults and pups all over the beaches, on tussock grass and inland. The number of tiny fur seal pups on display really dialed up the cuteness factor of these days.

Trio of seal pubs in Antarctica

Adorable seal pups. * Photo: John Roberts

Colleen and I made friends with a number of fellow passengers, who, like us, share a passion for adventure. They included an 11- and 14-year-old brother and sister who were traveling with their parents at what was just the start of a seven-months-long worldwide trip.

Most passengers were around 55 to 75 years old and from the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom. All were extremely well-traveled and represented a cross-section of careers (whether retired or still working) in business, law and medicine — some were highly successful entrepreneurs.

David Marcus and his wife, Bilha, from Maryland, were traveling with five other adult family members and friends. I noticed that their group was among the most engaged — enjoying the daily activities onboard and ashore. Before the trip was halfway over, Marcus had already resolved to return to Antarctica with his granddaughter once she is a bit older.

“The Zodiac tours and onshore excursions allowed us to almost shake hands with the penguins and seals,” he said. “And, surprisingly, the weather was warmer in Antarctica than back at home.”

Antarctica Cruising: Grytviken

A former whaling station, Grytviken is one of the most developed places on the island.

Grytviken in Antarctica

Grytviken is a former whaling station. * Photo: John Roberts

We went ashore for a hike and to visit the small church, immersive museum and little post office/gift shop.

Grytviken also has a small cemetery that includes the grave of Ernest Shackleton, who died of a heart attack at the age of 47 while there in 1922.

Shackleton grave on an Antarctica cruise

The grave of the legendary Shackleton. * Photo: John Roberts

The legendary Antarctica explorer made his name during several expeditions on the continent, most notably in an attempt to cross Antarctica beginning in late 1914 that led to a harrowing adventure after setting sail from South Georgia. His ship the Endurance became trapped in ice and ultimately was wrecked and sank. This led to an incredible tale of survival that lasted almost two years before Shackleton and crew returned to South Georgia.

When Shackleton’s fourth-and-final Antarctica expedition ended with his death off South Georgia, his wife, Emily, said that he should be buried there. And so he was buried on the island at Grytviken at the small cemetery that includes graves of several other residents.

shackleton's tombstone

A close up of Shackleton’s tombstone. * Photo: John Roberts

We went for an afternoon skiff tour within Drygalski Fjord and saw seals, seabirds and calving glaciers that filled the channel with thundering cracks and loud splashes and fizzing sounds as the massive chunks of ripped away from the ice field and plunged into the fjord.

Elsehul was our final stop in South Georgia, and we took a Zodiac tour in an especially enthralling place that represents the full menu of sensory experiences. We saw thousands of albatrosses, seals and penguins filling the skies, beaches and sloping grassy hillsides that surround this secluded cove.

Stunning ice formations. * Photo © Rick Sammon

The cuteness is unreal. * Photo © Rick Sammon

We were on a Zodiac with 10 others, and expedition guide Augie was at the helm again as we got our first look at macaroni penguins and marveled at the beauty of the gray-headed albatrosses. Augie had smuggled a medium-sized box onto the small boat, and its presence had gone largely unnoticed until he picked just the right time to slide it close, flip off the lid and reveal several bottles of Champagne.

 Champagne on an excursion

Nice surprise! * Photo: John Roberts

We were nestled along the shore and savoring the scenery as he popped the corks, poured the bubbly and passed around our glasses for a toast to our incredible time together over the past two-plus weeks.

Antarctica expedition cruise champagne

A toast with Augie. * Photo: John Roberts

passengers on an Antarctica cruise

Passengers Dick and Pat in Elsehul. * Photo: John Roberts

One Last Challenge: The Return Home

Remember when I said the ride south was smooth as could be and that many of us onboard were a little disappointed in not getting to experience at least a taste of what the seas can offer when they get angry on these Antarctic cruises?

Well, we got the full seven-course meal on the voyage back north.

The cruise itinerary had called for a stop at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, but that was scrapped as a massive storm crossed our path as we sailed in the South Atlantic Ocean.

RELATED: Ted’s 10 Best Antarctica & Falkland Islands Moments

Our captain informed us as we departed South Georgia that a storm was heading our way.

This resulted in almost 24 consecutive hours of the Le Lyrial and its crew and passengers being tossed about in waves that reached up to 50 feet and were regularly higher than 30 feet.

story seas in the Falklands

Stormy seas kept John & Colleen confined to their cabin for the last few days of the cruise. * Photo: John Roberts

VIDEO: Watching the sea churn during the stormy ride to the Falkland Islands.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSBTx5ax1gc

Services were shut down, and we remained in our cabins for almost the entire time. Crew served us a boxed meal for our dinner, and we did the best to stay comfortable in conditions that were both thrilling and scary. Colleen and I didn’t get much rest, as it was nearly impossible to sleep while trying to hang onto the bed without tumbling to the floor.

Trips to the bathroom were precarious, and items that weren’t fastened ended up scattered all around the cabin.

But we didn’t get sick, so that was a relief. I know many other passengers had a much rougher ride than we did because of seasickness.

We stayed mostly in our bed the whole time and watched a lot of on-demand movies.

Conditions eased as we cruised into a protected area by the Falkland Islands, so we had some relief for much of one day before the waves kicked up again. We sailed for four consecutive days before reaching Ushuaia and our return to land on a Friday evening.

Everyone was quite eager to get off the ship, as cabin fever had set in, and we saw passengers lining up near the gangway to rush off as soon as it was dropped. People headed out to take a walk and find a spot for dinner off the ship.

Though we were all still abuzz about all we had seen and experienced together, people were definitely in the mood for a change of pace, especially after 16 straight days onboard a ship — with the last four being very rough sea days.

Being back on solid ground and amid civilization was just what we were looking for as we joined new friends at a nice restaurant and shared pizzas, beers and lively conversation. It was the final night of the journey and we would be heading off to the airport and on our separate ways back home the next day.

© Rick Sammon ice photo in Antarctica

Serene landscapes (when the weather is good!). * Photo © Rick Sammon

Antarctica Cruising: The Bottom Line

We have enjoyed several expedition-style cruises over the years, and the guides always have been a special part of the trip, helping to bond the group together to share some of the most intense and fulfilling experiences you can imagine.

This part of the experience came up a bit short for us on this trip. A couple of the A&K guides were fairly friendly, and they all were fine when approached with questions, but they didn’t initiate engagement with the passengers in a way that I am used to seeing.

Instead, they tended to disappear or huddle together among themselves when in the main lounge. This was a little disappointing to me.

You never get tired of witnessing penguins and seals in their daily activities up close and in their natural habitat. However, our six days of exploring in the two different regions on the voyage would have been better with a bit more variety in the excursions.

The ship carried kayaks, but A&K did not include kayak tours in its program (and we weren’t really sure why).

Personally, I also would like more options for hikes. I do realize that we were probably in the minority for having these quibbles, though, as most people I asked said they really enjoyed almost every part of the trip — save for the rough sea days.

The program was a rich one, and the guides and staff took great care of us, displaying a true expertise of the region.

The enrichment talks were fascinating, and the animal interactions were intense and more exciting than you can imagine.

elephant seal

Adorably melancholic Elephant seal. * Photo: John Roberts

Our cruise director, Paul Carter, was especially delightful, making us laugh with jokes, always asking how our days were going and keeping us up to date with info needed to effectively navigate each day and destination.

The bilingual Ponant crew speaks French and English, and represent a mix of nationalities. Most officers and managers are French, with the hotel operations staff coming from places like India and the Philippines. The A&K guides come from all over. We had guides from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, the U.K. New Zealand and the United States.

The trip overall was fantastic and a great way to explore such a thrilling destination in style and comfort. Antarctica and South Georgia are places that you have to see for yourself to get a true appreciation for how vital and vibrant they are.

“I am thankful that I was able to witness this remarkable place that most people will never be able to see in their lifetime,” says Melissa Kaplan, who was traveling with her husband, Mike, from Katy, Texas. They also cruised with A&K to the Arctic in 2018, and Melissa feels that the Arctic and an Antarctic cruise that includes South Georgia, are both equally magnificent.

VIDEO: Enjoy John’s overview of his magical Antarctica A&K adventure.

Fares for John’s 20-night “Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands” adventure (four hotel nights in Buenos Aires, 15 nights aboard Le Lyrial, and one final hotel night in Ushuaia), started at $20,995 per person, including round-trip flights between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, plus all zodiac excursions; all house wines, spirits and drinks; expedition gear (parka etc); tips and port charges; accommodation in a suite; and more (note all cabins have a balcony except for 8 cabins on Deck 3)..

View similar offerings for the 2021-22 season here.  *Note, the “new normal” for cruising, whether small-scale or mass-market, is still to be determined as the travel world adjusts to cruising in the era of COVID-19. 

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

RELATED:  Antarctica Aboard a Former Russian Research Vessel.  by Judi Cohen

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Hawaii cruise

Hawaii Cruise Expedition

By John Roberts.

Hawaii is a destination that invites and instills a spirt of playfulness, wonder and awe. And I’m convinced that a small-ship expedition is one of the best ways to experience this tropical paradise.

So this is how I spent my summer vacation. Sailing in Hawai’i with UnCruise Adventures. Carefree, barefoot, bare-chested and bold.

This voyage was especially reinvigorating, full of opportunities to cut loose.

Hawaii Cruise

John jumping into a great week! * Photo: UnCruise

We spent our days playing in the water without a care in the world as the 36-passenger Safari Explorer moved from island to island during the weeklong cruise — transporting us to a new place each day to play in our vibrant giant aquarium with sea turtles, reef sharks, octopuses and colorful fish.

Safari Explorer Hawaii

The 36-passenger Safari Explorer. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii cruise aboard the Safari Explorer

The 36-passenger Safari Explorer is ideal for cruising Hawaii. * Photo: John Roberts

For a person who loves the water and outdoors, there is no better place than Hawai’i.

It has ideal weather throughout the year and offers an infinite number of activities to please foodies, nature lovers, sporty types, and history and culture enthusiasts.

UnCruise Adventures blends all of these passions in its jam-packed itinerary, sailing from Molokai and visiting the Big Island (Hawaii), Maui and Lanai.

Hawaii cruise with UnCruise

The 36-passenger Safari Explorer 7-night cruise route. * Map: UnCruise

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Hawaii Cruise: The Staff

“I feel that the staff was amazing,” said Sharon Navre, who is from New York and was sailing on her first UnCruise voyage with husband Jeff to celebrate their 35th anniversary.

“We were kept busy, and we like that side of things. We are impressed with how they can take care of everybody, including dietary needs. I would definitely do an UnCruise again.”

The expedition line has been in Hawai’i for more than a decade, and during this time, UnCruise has developed special relationships with members of the island communities. This gives travelers an opportunity to immerse themselves in an experience more representative of authentic “Old Hawai’i” than they would find elsewhere.

Authentic Hawaii Cruise

Experiencing authentic “old” Hawaii. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: Connected to the Past

Since 2019, UnCruise now sails all year in Hawai’i, offering weeklong one-way expeditions between Molokai and the Big Island (Hawai’i). UnCruise decided it made a lot of sense to keep Safari Explorer running in Hawai’i all year to maximize the number of trips it could offer to this beloved destination.

We joined Safari Explorer for one of the last voyages of the summer — the end of UnCruise’s first season cruising Hawai’i during the summer months (the ship used to spend summers in Alaska).

Though summer is outside of whale-watching season (which is September until June), there is still plenty to do and see.

Hawaii Cruise: Molokai

Our cruise started and ended in Molokai, an island the big ships can’t get to. In fact, UnCruise Adventures is the lone cruise line making regularly scheduled visits to Molokai.

This island is just 38 miles long and 10 miles wide, and is the place most connected to Hawai’i’s ancient roots. A large proportion of the 7,000-plus residents are of native ancestry who proudly live a simple and rural lifestyle aiming to preserve their culture and history.

At the eastern tip of Molokai is the Halawa Valley, a lush place home to the island chain’s oldest continuously inhabited spot; the first Polynesian people arrived from the Marquesas, Tahitian and other neighboring islands around 650 AD. More than 1,300 years later, you can meet with Anakala Pilipo Soltario and his family who welcome visitors to their land and home.

Hawaii Cruise: Family Heritage

Anakala (or Uncle) Pilipo is the last resident of the valley who was born there, and when we arrive, we are greeted by him, his son Greg and two teenaged grandsons. The two teens lead a short hike around the property and up to the home.

In port in Molokai on a Hawaii Cruise

Uncle Pilipo and his grandsons. * Photo: John Roberts

Each member of the family wears a red kihei, a cape-like cloth that is knotted at the shoulder and draped around the torso. Uncle Pilipo and Greg then have us gather in a small grassy area to show us the traditional “welcome ceremony,” demonstrating how visitors from one village would seek permission to enter another village, perhaps to discuss trade.

Greg stands at the head of our group and blows into a conch (pu), awaiting a return call from his father. We may approach only when Uncle Pilipo returns the sound on the pu.

We then all line up for a “Hawai’ian handshake,” the traditional greeting called honi. This intimate custom requires the participants to press together their foreheads and noses while looking into each other’s eyes and inhaling deeply, sharing a breath.

the traditional "honi" on a Hawaii cruise

The traditional “Hawai’ian handshake,” a greeting called honi. * Photo: Colleen McDaniel

The entire group did it with all of our hosts and one another before moving to a set of picnic tables to hear Greg and Anakala Pilipo speak passionately about the customs and culture they are seeking to preserve. When Hawai’i became a U.S. state in 1959, the process of “Westernization” — which had begun decades earlier after the U.S. annexed the islands — became accelerated.

During this culture talk, we learn the traditional term for a Hawai’ian feast is pa’ina and not luau, which is actually a leaf of the sacred taro plant. Greg gathers a large board and a set of stone tools he uses to pound fresh poi from taro roots. These are family implements that have lasted six generations and are meticulously cared for. He pounds the poi and tells us how the food is a staple of the native Hawai’ian diet. He mixes a bit of salted fish into the sticky lump of poi, and we all eagerly grab a serving from the mound, many getting seconds as the fresh delicacy is passed around on a large taro leaf.

Making poi on an Hawaiian cruise

Greg uses stone tools to pound fresh poi from taro roots. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: Natural Disasters

Anakala Pilipo recounts the days of his youth and the small schoolhouse he attended that once sat on the property — a cornerstone still visible under a tall palm tree. There were thousands of residents in Halawa Valley up until the late 1950s. A massive tsunami flooded the valley in 1946, when Anakala Solatorio was six years old. He recalls seeing a wall of water approaching as his family joined villagers retreating higher into the hills to avoid devastating flooding that killed more 100 people.

After another tsunami in 1957 wiped out the taro fields, most residents left the valley, leaving few remaining families.

Greg gives the culture talks and also leads hikes to a majestic waterfall for visitors (heavy rains left the trails unsafe for hiking during our time in the valley). He says preserving this lifestyle is his passion. The role his father had long held has been passed to him.

“Our culture is sacred, not secret,” Greg says. “When we don’t share our culture, will be the moment our culture dies.”

Hawaiian cruise

Uncle Pilipo and his family greeting UnCruise passengers. * Photo: John Roberts

Whether you start or end your trip at Molokai, you should consider spending an extra day or two there to further explore places like the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, a former leper colony — or just relax in the soothing serenity.

The lone resort on the island is Hotel Molokai, a lovely spot right on the waterfront.

This also serves as the hospitality site for UnCruise Adventures’ passengers beginning or ending their voyages in Molokai.

Below is a video tour of Hotel Molokai.

Hawaii Cruise: Quirky Ship Built for Island Adventures

Safari Explorer is a rugged yacht that carries up to 36 passengers in 18 staterooms spread over the ship’s three decks. There are two Commodore Suites and three Admiral cabins that offer between 200 and 275 square feet as well as amenities like a bathtub and hot tubs. So, you get a bit more space than the other accommodations, which all feature simple layouts, small marine-style bathrooms (with the toilet and shower in the same little space), comfy beds, and TVs with DVD players (DVD library in the lounge).

We stayed in a standard cabin, and our room was a tight fit for couples. The layout meant we had to take turns getting into the bed, which is fit into a tight corner area. There is no wi-fi or cable TV. But for this trip, you only really need a place to store your clothes and lay your head in comfort at night, and the cabins fit the bill just fine.

Safari Explorer cabin

John’s cabin. * Photo: John Roberts

The captain welcomes passengers onto the open bridge to see how the navigation happens or to get a good look at the wildlife at play in the waters.

Hawaii Cruise with Captain Tyler

Captain Tyler at the wheel. * Photo: John Roberts

Open bridge on Safari Explorer

The bridge is open for passengers to visit. * Photo: John Roberts

The top sun deck is a wide-open space that we used for a morning stretch and workout with a complement of free weights and yoga mats available. (Note: UnCruise did away with its wellness program, so no yoga or stretch classes led by staff.)

Hawaii cruise top deck

Morning stretches on deck. * Photo: John Roberts

Safari explorer gym weights

Some work-out equipment is available. * Photo: Colleen McDaniel

Safari Explorer’s main lounge is the heartbeat of life onboard, with a bar area and adjacent dining room serving as the prime gathering spots for cold drinks, hearty meals, snacks and lively conversation.

Safari Explorer bar

Drinks are included! * Photo: John Roberts

Two expedition guides (Lauren and Sophy) conducted enrichment talks in this space, discussing marine life, with a focus on turtles, fish and reef systems. There is a small library and game room with a piano and guitar for any musically inclined passengers.

main lounge of Safari Explorer

The main lounge is the ship’s hub. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: Food Department

While the ship offers an efficient way to travel around the islands in comfort, the special formula that makes the UnCruise Adventures experience in Hawai’i so memorable is the activities, crew and food.

For a ship with such a small kitchen, it is amazing the array of fantastic locally-sourced fresh food that we were treated to.

Everyone on the ship during our sailing frequently rotated to create new groups at the tables for six, enjoying plated meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Safari Explorer's dining room

Safari Explorer’s dining room. * Photo: UnCruise Adventures

We loved that the portions were moderately sized, so there was very little waste. Many of the offerings were so tempting that we often ordered half portions of two selections (always one meat, one fish and one vegetarian).

Dinner on an Hawaii cruise

Yummy pork belly. * Photo: John Roberts

Check out some of the specialties that the kitchen created:

Thai basil red snapper, chicken curry, Hungarian mushroom soup with paprika oil, Kona coffee-rubbed beef tenderloin, pork belly, corn fritters, seared scallops, marinated rack of lamb, ahi tuna, chickpea tarts and venison loco moco.

Desserts included meringue fruits pavlova (below), ginger lemongrass ice cream and a daily afternoon assortment of fresh-baked cookies.

(I drooled just typing that paragraph.)

Dessert on the Safari Explorer

Dessert is served! * Photo: John Roberts

Check out John’s video tour of the ship below!

Hawaii Cruise: Four Islands & Endless Fun

Aside from Molokai, UnCruise Safari Explorer expeditions in Hawai’i feature stops at three other islands —  Maui, Lanai and the Big Island.

Colleen and I sailed with 18 other adventure-oriented travelers. Onboard was a foursome of friends from Seattle and a pair of best buds from San Fran, with all of these youngsters in their 30s or younger. There was a family of four from California with two college-age kids; couples from Virginia, New York and Florida; and a mom and daughter from Australia.

Hawaii cruise on Safari Explorer

Passengers bonded quickly on the intimate 36-passenger Safari Explorer. * Photo: John Roberts

The group quickly grew tight over the course of the week as we jumped into our exploration.

After departing Molokai, the next morning offered the first of many water activities. We snorkeled in secluded Honolua Bay and spotted green sea turtles as well as an array of tropical fish. In summer, the activities are focused on getting into the water for Zodiac rides, paddling, swimming and snorkeling.

kayaking on an Hawaii cruise

Kayaking is a big focus of UnCruise in Hawaii. * Photo: John Roberts

snorkeling on an Hawaii cruise

Snorkeling fun! * Photo: John Roberts

(In other parts of the year, these sailings will utilize more time for wonderful whale-watching outings.)

The sun was out every day, and the hot temps made the time in the water all the more inviting. So, we all took advantage.

Hawaii cruise swimming

John & Colleen enjoying the water! * Photo: John Roberts

Our expedition leader Lauren and expedition guide Sophy briefed us each night after dinner about the next day’s plans.

Hawaii cruise crew

Lauren and Sophy. * Photo: John Roberts

An UnCruise Adventures itinerary lays out a rough schedule for where the ship will sail, but is always considered an outline and a plan from which we could deviate because of weather or special wildlife activity that the team learns about and is eager to have us experience.

In fact, we depart the Big Island a day early to avoid rough weather that would make it tougher to cross the Alenuihaha Channel and back to Maui.

During the week, we mix time on the ship with time ashore. We snorkel at a green sea turtle “cleaning station” off the coast of Maui (the Olowalu “turtle reef”) and see the turtles as well as numerous white tip reef sharks, a mating pair of octopuses and harlequin shrimp.

green sea turtle on a Hawaii cruise

A big green sea turtle seen on a snorkeling excursion. * Photo: John Roberts

John snorkeling in Hawaii

John snorkeling.

Hawaii cruise snorkeling

Colleen is holding a pin cushion sea star for a moment. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: Lanai

At anchor just off Lanai, we set out in kayaks at sunrise and get back in time for breakfast and a late-morning snorkel. After lunch, we got the chance to head ashore to explore historic Lanai City and take a hike to Sweetheart Rock.

Lanai is home to just 3,000 people, one of the pristine and isolated places that you visit on this expedition — far away from the crowds, making the overall experience that much more blissful as you can enjoy the natural beauty in its raw form.

Sailing from Lanai, we encounter dolphins eager to swim on the bow of the Safari Explorer. Multiple pods join through the rest of the afternoon as we make our way toward Kona on the Big Island.

I’m pretty sure that we saw dolphins nearly every day.

dolphins on a Hawaii cruise

Seeing dolphins up close! * Photo: John Roberts

Kona is a bigger city, bustling with tourists and resorts along its pretty beaches. Colleen and I go for a run, managing just a couple miles in the heat before we settle on a gentle stroll back to town, taking some pics along the way. We have a set time to join fellow cruisers Chris, Kevin and Garad to try our hands at paddling the traditional wooden canoe, called a wa’a.

Hawaii cruise wooden canoe

Tips for paddling the traditional wooden canoe, called a wa’a. * Photo: John Roberts

We have fun paddling in sync around the coastal waters and into the lagoon off Kona, taking some time to rest our arms and jump into the warm waters for a swim as well. The wa’a is an important boat in Hawai’ian culture. Long ago, these single- and double-hulled canoes with an outrigger were the sole means of transport around the islands. They are carved by hand from a tree, and the process of building one is quite sacred.

Today, Hawai’ians young and old use them for exercise and recreation and for racing competitions.

Hawaii cruise canoe

Paddling in sync around the coastal waters off Kona. * Photo: John Roberts

Our time at the Big Island included a diverse array of activities, indeed. That evening we went for a night snorkel in the hopes of seeing giant manta rays. We came up empty (frowny face) but were enthralled by the spooky illuminated waters filled with plankton and thousands of feeding fish. Some in our group even saw a rare Hawai’ian monk seal darting through the gauzy depths.

The next morning, we set out for a sunrise kayak along black lava cliff sides until we reached the “Blue Lagoon,” an area where black crabs crawled on the lava formations and turtles enjoying the calm waters and quiet shoreline where they rest and mate.

lava formations on an Hawaii cruise

Cool lava formations. * Photo: John Roberts

turtles in Hawaii

Turtle time. * Photo: John Roberts

Those who chose a skiff tour instead of kayaking were met by a curious pod of dolphins for an up-close interaction.

Dolphins on a Hawaii cruise

Dolphins spotted from a skiff! * Photo: John Roberts

In the afternoon, it was more snorkeling and a skiff ride along the shore where we witnessed thrashing waves shoot through lava tubes in a stunning display of the ocean’s force.

lava tubes in Hawaii

Lava tubes. * Photo: John Roberts

Hawaii Cruise: A Bit of Chop

With a storm approaching, Capt. Tyler Manning guided the ship back to Maui, navigating some fairly choppy waters. Colleen and I enjoy being rocked to sleep, while many other passengers were a bit worried about how they might handle rougher seas.

We all emerged the next morning, most of us looking quite chipper despite being tossed around a bit. Back in calm waters off the coast of Maui, we took advantage of the chance to snorkel, swim and jump into the water off the back marina and the second-deck platform, which offers an exhilarating 20-foot drop.

Safari Explorer in Hawaii

Weeee! * Photo: John Roberts

We were anchored off Lahaina Town, and most of us took the opportunity to go into town for some beach time and a refreshing shave ice.

Hawaii cruise snacks

Hawaiian shave ices anyone? * Photo: John Roberts

Safari Explorer stayed at anchor well into the night, and the crew put on a wonderful top-deck cocktail hour and dance party. It was Day 6 of our cruise, and by now, we all were getting along like a big festive family.

Jessica, our bartender mixed cocktails. Jose, our hotel manager and the rest of the crew handed out cold beers, wines and tapas. And most of us danced around the deck while the beautiful sun set.

Hawaii cruise aboard Safari Explorer

Life is good for John and Colleen. * Photo: John Roberts

We didn’t want the cruise to end. That always happens on these small ships, especially when you travel with people who love to stay active and share a passion for adventure.

Here’s John’s video recap of his UnCruise Adventures expedition in Hawai’i.

Hawaii cruise crew

Jose & Jessica. * Photo: John Roberts

Alas, the last day brought as back to Molokai to explore more. That night, we had a farewell pa’ina feast and music and storytelling from a hula master at the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center. A duo played ukulele and guitar music while singing folkloric songs. A hula dancer swayed to the tunes. We dined on pulled pork, seafood and pickled veggies.

Our souls were filled with the true aloha spirit of Hawai’i.

Hawaii sunset

Until next time …. * Photo: John Roberts

For booking info, contact UnCruise Adventures.

The 7-night Hawaii cruises start at $5,200 per person and include all excursions and alcoholic drinks.

SPECIAL OFFER FROM UNCRUISE: In celebration of its first year of year-round Hawaii sailings, save $700 per couple on weeklong Hawaii cruises departing between March 7 – September 5, 2020.  Mention code 700HI20.

Enjoy John’s video recap of his UnCruise Adventures expedition in Hawai’i.

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Atlas Ocean Voyages ship World Navigator

Atlas Ocean Voyages 

By Anne Kalosh.

A new brand has burst onto the small-ship cruising scene. Atlas Ocean Voyages is set to field five 200-passenger expedition-style vessels. All are polar-class new builds, but Atlas eschews the expedition label in favor of “luxe adventure.” 

What is Luxe Adventure?

Atlas Ocean Voyages will sail the world, offering adventurous cruises for active people at a premium price point.

Since the line will go beyond traditional expedition climes such as Antarctica and the Arctic, it’s emphasizing adventure over expeditions.

“We are an adventurous, small-ship cruise company with expedition-style vessels,” said Alberto Aliberti, president of Atlas Ocean Voyages, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “We want to seek adventure wherever we are. We’ll have expedition itineraries, our ship will be expedition capable and ice capable, and we’ll have a full fleet of Zodiacs … But, when we’re in Marseille, we won’t be on an expedition cruise.”

Atlas Ocean Voyages president Alberto Aliberti

Atlas Ocean Voyages President Alberto Aliberti. * Photo: Atlas Ocean Voyages

Atlas Ocean Voyages logo

Atlas Ocean Voyages logo

Aliberti went on to define luxe adventure as “all-inclusive, small-ship journeys with luxurious amenities, delivering limitless adventures.” He promised “unexpected discoveries, foodie immersion and unique adrenaline rushes.”

Cruises will average 10 to 11 nights, with some weeklong itineraries and some longer voyages. Fares bundle in gratuities, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages including bottled water, standard Wi-Fi and shore excursions in select ports.

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Eastern Med, Black Sea, Holy Land

The first ship, World Navigator, is to begin sailing in mid-2021. It will debut in the Mediterranean, spending summer there with a heavy eastern Med focus. Travelers can explore Greece and Italy or the Black Sea, with destinations in Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine. 

Atlas Ocean Voyages ship World Navigator

The 200-passenger World Navigator. * Rendering: Atlas Ocean Voyages

For example, a seven-night cruise from Piraeus, the port for Athens, transits the narrow Corinth Canal and stops at a port a day in Greece and Italy before arriving at Civitavecchia, the port of Rome. Fares start at $4,999 per person.

One of the Black Sea sailings embarks in Odessa, Ukraine, and circles around to ports in Russia, Georgia and Turkey before ending with an overnight call at Istanbul. Fares start at $5,999 per person.

A 15-night adventure treks from Istanbul to the Holy Land, calling at numerous ports in Turkey and stopping in Greece and Cyprus before arriving in Israel, where overnight calls in Ashdod (gateway to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem) and Haifa cap the experience. The price for this voyage starts at $9,999 per person.

Two itineraries focus on Israel and Egypt. 

Then, in early October, World Navigator will reposition across the Atlantic, from Lisbon, Portugal, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. From there, the ship will sail to Montevideo, Uruguay, then continue further south to the tip of the continent and Ushuaia, Argentina, its base for a season in Antarctica.

Adventure Focus

Research helped the company hone in on people who enjoy an active lifestyle and typically are members of clubs focused on activities like horseback riding, golf, tennis or swimming. Indeed, www.atlasoceanvoyages.com depicts people in action. 

Adventures could include camping out in the rain forest, snorkeling in an underground cenote (a limestone sinkhole), whitewater rafting, desert hiking, hot-air ballooning, spending a night in a kibbutz and taking advantage of the ship’s fleet of bicycles.

A robust pre- and post-cruise land program will give opportunities for “two adventures in one vacation,” Aliberti said, some of them providing contrasting experiences such as skiing in Switzerland before a Mediterranean cruise. An optional two-day overland tour visits the infamous and otherworldly Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Atlas plans a health and wellness program on board that may include a culinary aspect. There’s no kids’ program, but multigenerational families are welcomed.

Upmarket Ships

“We’ll be upmarket. We don’t like the word ‘luxury.’ It’s overused. We’ll play off that juxtaposition of adventure and luxury,” said Brandon Townsley, vice president, sales and trade partnerships.

Yet the ambiance will be casual, along with the dress code. Public rooms will “foster a sense of community and ease of interaction,” according to Aliberti. “We want people to be comfortable,” whether they’re extremely active types or laid back.

Each 126-meter/413 foot-ship measures just under 10,000 gross tons and has 98 suites and staterooms, all with an ocean view and most with veranda. 

Public rooms include an Observation Lounge with an unusual feature. It’s topped by a glass dome so travelers can look up to the stars or the northern lights. Beneath that there’s a lighted glass well affording views down into the sea.  

Observation lounge of new Atlas ship

The Observation Lounge is topped by a glass dome so travelers can see the night sky. .* Rendering: Atlas Ocean Voyages

SeaSpa by L’Occitane will be the Provence brand’s first spa on the water. A gym, pool, restaurant, bars, theater and library round out the amenities. Another unusual feature is heated outdoor seating for comfort when viewing wildlife in cold climes. 

The seven accommodations categories range from the 183-square-foot Adventure Staterooms to the one-bedroom, 466-square-foot Navigator Suite. All have a stocked refrigerator, L’Occitane bath amenities, hair dryer, plush robes and slippers, digital safe and still or sparking water replenished twice daily.

Atlas Ocean Voyages' Adventure Staterooms

The entry-level category is an Adventure Stateroom with windows, but no balcony. * Rendering: Atlas Ocean Voyages

Nearly 90% of the accommodations have verandas, including the 269-square-foot Horizon Stateroom, which features a floor-to-ceiling glass wall with an upper panel that slides open to the air. The Veranda Staterooms also measure 269 square feet.

Horizon cabin on Atlas's World Navigator

World Navigator’s Horizon Staterooms with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that open. * Rendering: Atlas Ocean Voyages

The entry-level Adventure Staterooms come with a large picture-frame window.

All accommodations have a queen-size bed that converts into two twins facing an oversized, interactive flat-panel screen with live and on-demand television, movies, music and audio programming, as well as Bluetooth connectivity for smartphones and tablets. Each room includes a desk, while the Horizon and Veranda categories offer a sitting area with a loveseat and coffee table.

Five USB ports and five 110V and 220V outlets are placed strategically throughout.

World Navigator also has 10 one-bedroom suites. The Journey Suite measures 382 square feet; the Discovery Suite, 445 square feet; and the Navigator Suite, 466 square feet. All have a double-wide, 106-square-foot veranda with sun loungers, teak chairs and table. Each suite includes two closets and both the living room and bedroom have an oversized, interactive flat-panel television.

A 466-square-foot, one-bedroom Navigator Suite on World Explorer * Rendering: Atlas Ocean Voyages

Two Junior Suite configurations include one with exterior veranda and another with the floor-to-ceiling Horizon window that opens.

All bathrooms feature spa showers with adjustable body-jets. The Navigator Suite and Discovery Suite come with double sinks and a separate water closet, while the Navigator Suite has a bathtub.

Portuguese Parent

World Navigator is being built at WestSea Viana do Castelo in Portugal. It is the third in a series of what is planned to be 10 vessels for Mystic Cruises, a Portuguese company led by entrepreneur Mário Ferreira. He developed river cruising on the Douro before branching out into ocean cruising.

RELATED: Oceangoing Small Ships to Debut in 2020

The first of those ocean ships, World Explorer, was introduced in 2019. It is sailing for Germany’s Nicko Cruises (owned by Ferreira) and on charter to polar specialist Quark Expeditions for Antarctica seasons. World Voyager is to follow this year. 

Atlas Ocean Voyages new ships

The Atlas Ocean Voyages ships are modeled on 2019’s World Explorer. * Photo: Atlas Ocean Voyages

But back to Atlas: Ferreira decided to devote some of his new ships to U.S. and Canadian travelers, so he created this new brand for them. After World Navigator in 2021, World Traveller and World Seeker are scheduled to arrive in 2022, followed by World Adventurer and World Discoverer in 2023.

“These are exciting times for us,” Ferreira said. “With the launch of the World Explorer in 2019 we took a firm step to establish ourselves as a key player in the expedition cruise market, bringing to it our 25-year expertise in small ship luxury and intimate on board services, complemented with authentic shore excursions.”

Reduced Environmental Footprint

Ferreira added: “A significant part of the investment we’re making goes to equip our ships with the latest eco-friendly technologies available in the market, including pioneering new solutions to reduce the environmental impacts.”

The vessels have Rolls-Royce engines, the ability to connect to shore power when in port and an electric jet propulsion system to avoid damage to polar ecosystems when stationary.

So although Atlas is a new brand with a penchant for adventure, it’s anchored — so to speak — in a well-established company.

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Helicopters aboard Scenic Eclipse

New Scenic Eclipse

By Peter Knego.

During a blast of social media posts covering the debut of Scenic Cruises’ six-star luxury expedition ship Scenic Eclipse, what stood out in my feed were the comments from friends who are generally indifferent to cruising and cruise ships. My childhood buddy Radames chimed: “Okay, now THAT’s a cruise ship I can get behind — sideways skyscrapers do nothing for me!” Meanwhile, several others gushed about the “James Bond” edginess of the ship’s appearance. “Gorgeous!” “Beautiful!” “Sleek!” These were common descriptions on social media platforms frequented by cruise aficionados.

Click below 👇🏼 for a quick clip of the Scenic Eclipse at her Manhattan berth on September 10, 2019, the day of her christening.

Since 2008, Scenic Cruises has been one of the highest rated, all-inclusive luxury river cruise lines in the world, making the 228-passenger Scenic Eclipse a hotly anticipated new comer into the high seas cruise market. Dubbed a Discovery Yacht, this ship is not only the Australian-based line’s first foray into ocean cruises but the first in a new generation of top tier expedition ships equipped with impressive features like helicopters (two) and a submarine in addition to the usual armada of kayaks, zodiacs and e-bikes.

Octopus ship

The mega yacht Octopus, which has two helicopters and submarine, was the inspiration for Scenic Eclipse’s edgy profile. * Photo: Peter Knego

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During her New York christening on September 10, 2019, Scenic CEO Glen Moroney attributed her striking, wedge-like silhouette to that of a mega yacht (the late Paul Allen’s Octopus) he admired from his office window overlooking Sydney harbor.

Scenic Eclipse christening

Basking in the christening afterglow, from left to right:  Godmother Dame Helen Mirren, Glen Moroney (Founder and Chairman of Scenic Cruises), Karen Moroney (Project Director, Design for Scenic Group), Captain James Griffiths. * Photo: Peter Knego

With polar cruising in mind, the ship has a PC6 ice class rating, the highest possible for a passenger ship, which will allow her to not only cruise Antarctica but also navigate the Northwest Passage.

The Eclipse’s interiors, which are just as dynamic and photogenic as her exterior, are the vision of Moroney’s wife, Karen. Inside and out, they have achieved an object of cutting-edge beauty that comes with a few caveats.

Scenic Eclipse's Lobby Lounge

The Lobby Lounge, where comfort and chic converge, facing aft from port. * Photo: Peter Knego

Once aboard, I was struck with how the interiors resembled Scenic’s river cruise ships, albeit on a much grander scale. Stark black, gray, beige, and wood tones along with white Carrara marble surfaces provide a sophisticated setting for luxurious furnishings, vivid floral arrangements and bold artworks.

This ship is pure eye candy for those who tire of the Vegas glitz or, perhaps even worse, the generic stylings and bland, chunky architecture of many of today’s mass market cruise ships.

Including Deck 3, where there is a mud room for guests to don excursion gear, the Eclipse has eight guest decks with most of the four overall grades of suite accommodations concentrated at the forward end of the ship. Two stair towers and a pair of lifts provide vertical access and wide central passageways traverse each level, providing a seamless guest flow.

Owner's Suite on Scenic Eclipse

The Owner’s Suite 902 living room, facing port/forward. * Photo: Peter Knego

RELATED: QuirkyCruise News: A Look Inside the Lavish New Scenic Eclipse

During the christening ceremony, the ship’s Godmother, Dame Helen Mirren, compared the most opulent digs, a pair of lavish 2,099-square-foot Owner’s Suites on Deck 9 to “New York apartments.”

And for a short while, with their Hudson River view that day, they actually were. These palatial abodes feature a massive, forward-facing teak-lined terrace boasting fixed alcoves of seating and a large whirlpool tub.

The living room has a panorama of floor-to-ceiling windows, a dining nook and a massive flat screen television (somewhat precariously mounted atop a chrome pedestal). Owner’s Suites also have a separate bedroom, a walk-in closet and a bathroom with a tub that overlooks the sea.

Verandah Suite on New scenic eclipse

Standard Verandah Suite, facing starboard. * Photo: Peter Knego

Even the less princely Verandah Suites boast teak balconies, a sitting area, king-sized Scenic Slumber beds (that can change position with the touch of a button), a wall-sized mirror that contains a flat screen television and familiar Scenic trappings. We’re talking Bose speakers, a complimentary mini-bar and convenient touches like an umbrella, slippers, plush robes, (illy) espresso machines, QuietVox headphones for shore excursions and, of course, butler service.

The Theater aboard Scenic Eclipse

Theater, facing forward. * Photo: Peter Knego

There is an entire deck of public rooms located near the bottom of the ship on Deck 4, beginning with the in-the-round Theater (featuring reclining chairs with drink holders). On the starboard side, a boutique leads aft to the Lobby Lounge with its sea-level span of full-length windows, a magnificent backlit quartz crystal bar with 110 selections of fine whiskeys and other top shelf liquors and a Carra marble-fronted reception desk.

The entry vestibule follows, leading to the open kitchen Koko’s Asian fusion restaurant on the starboard side and the Continental/Italian Elements restaurant on the port side.

The ship's library

One of the ship’s best kept secrets, the handsome Observation Lounge is located at the forward end of Deck 5.  It boasts a self-serve espresso and tea station and a library of interesting books. * Photo: Peter Knego

More public spaces can be found on forward Deck 5 (Observation Lounge), aft Deck 5 (Lumiere French specialty restaurant and Azure Bar/Cafe), aft Deck 6 (Spa, available at no charge to guests although treatments are for a fee) and aft Deck 7 (Gym, Yoga Studio, and the Yacht Club buffet terrace and pool area).

Unfortunately, the outer deck areas are a bit compromised by the Eclipse’s edgy aesthetics and expensive toys.

Thanks to a very large helipad on aft Deck 8 and the visually appealing but space-consuming vertical curvature of the forward bulwarks, there is a lack of ample open deck space.

While cruising through some of the most scenic waters in the world, guests will have to content themselves with open-air views from their private verandahs, racing all the way to a narrow stern terrace, up to Deck 10 or, even more remotely, out to the open bow on Deck 5.

Dining and swimming on Scenic Eclipse

Where dining and swimming converge. The Yacht Club, shown in a forward-facing view. * Photo: Peter Knego

Another functional design quirk is that the only proper pool is in an enclosed area at the aft end of the Yacht Club. Sharing space with the buffet dining area, it creates a humid environment for diners and during meal times, it becomes a noisy, crowded venue for those seeking a quiet poolside respite.

Further, while the terrace on Deck 10 is a beautiful setting with its commanding views, teak decking, open sunning space and a pair of whirlpools, it lacks a proper windscreen, negating its use when the ship is at sea.

Late that afternoon, I embarked as a guest for a four-night cruise to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. After settling into my Verandah Suite, there was time for a quick cappuccino and a fabulously crunchy cookie in the Azure Café before boat drill.

Two hot tubs on board

Manhattan departure from Deck 10, which has a pair of Jacuzzis and banks of cushioned seating. * Photo: Scenic Eclipse

Scenic Eclipse must have looked magnificent as she pivoted out of the NYPST (New York Passenger Ship Terminal) and pointed her long, sleek bow towards the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.  We toasted with a glass of champagne up on Deck 10, as Manhattan basked in a golden afternoon light and numerous small craft and a very persistent helicopter encircled us.

sushi bar

Watching the chefs work their magic is one of the highlights of dining at Koko’s sushi bar. * Photo: Peter Knego

That evening, I joined a fellow cruise writer for dinner in Koko’s. While my companion enjoyed the sushi offerings, I particularly delighted in the tofu fritters and the ice-cold Kirin Ichiban beer.

art on the Scenic Eclipse

One of the eye-catching Hush panels in Koko’s. * Photo: Peter Knego

In addition to excellent food, Koko’s features artwork by London-based Hush that combines graffiti style graphics with traditional Japanese geisha imagery.

Digital daily program

A digital version of the daily program is available round the clock on Scenic Eclipse’s stateroom televisions. * Photo: Peter Knego

When I retired to my cabin, my bed was turned down but there was no program for the next day. I returned to the Lounge to ask for one and was told that in order to conserve paper, programs were not being printed unless requested. Not wanting to navigate the complex television system or download yet another app (that might or might not function with shifty shipboard satellite connections), I requested that one be placed in my cabin each night.

I appreciated Scenic’s conservational motives here but in the overall scheme of things, one daily program per cabin is a drop in the bucket compared to all the other paper use on board.

digital door info

A “do not disturb” setting outside stateroom doors can be activated with a convenient switch. * Photo: Peter Knego

Once back in the stateroom, I ticked off various boxes on the breakfast room service menu, placed it in the slot outside my cabin, turned on the red “do not disturb” sign (a familiar feature that has morphed over from Scenic’s river ships) and called it a night.

Scenic Eclipse's teak bow

Guests have access to the long, teak-lined bow on board the Scenic Eclipse. * Photo: Peter Knego

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The next morning, I awoke to my smiling butler baring a room service tray with cold cuts, a deliciously flaky croissant and a piping hot cappuccino. It was just the fuel I needed to venture out and explore the bridge (Scenic has an open bridge policy, conditions permitting) and stand out on the bow as it cut through the mild Atlantic chop.

Yacht Club buffet spread

The excellent buffet style offerings in the Yacht Club come with a side of humidity (haha) from the enclosed pool at the aft end of the room. * Photo: Peter Knego

The lunch buffet in the Yacht Club had some beautifully prepared, delicious selections but the humidity generated by the adjacent enclosed pool was daunting.  As the Eclipse pulled into the Martha’s Vineyard anchorage — in lieu of reef-damaging anchors, the ship uses a satellite-controlled pod system to stay in place — I capped off lunch with another perfect cappuccino in Azure.

Helicopters aboard Scenic Eclipse

Helicopter maneuvers on board Scenic Eclipse. The issue of the ship’s lack of ample open deck space could be easily remedied if the Deck 8 helipad could be opened up for guests when the helicopters (which are stowed in adjacent hangars) aren’t being used. * Photo: Scenic Eclipse

After heading up to Deck 10 to witness a shipboard helicopter take off for the first time, I was soon tendering ashore to join an afternoon tour of Martha’s Vineyard.

Martha's Vineyard

On tour with Scenic in Martha’s Vineyard. * Photo: Peter Knego

Scenic provides included Freechoice tours in each port in addition to reasonably-priced Discovery tours. Our Tastes of Martha’s Vineyard excursion took us via school bus through six quaint towns and past numerous farms and Victorian estates before stopping at the Aquinnah Cliffs for a spectacular view of the lighthouse.

Scenic Eclipse in New England

The Scenic Eclipse is shown here off Martha’s Vineyard with her helipad “wings” folded up into the aft superstructure. * Photo: Peter Knego

When we returned to the ship, she looked especially fetching with her helipad “wings” retracted.

That evening, as the Eclipse navigated the Cape Cod Canal towards Boston, we dined in Elements, which compared to the delicious offerings and attentive service in KoKo’s was somewhat of a let down.

drinks aboard Scenic Eclipse

A dash of this and a drop of that, please… * Photo: Peter Knego

Later, at the whiskey bar, I sampled some very exclusive bourbon choices. Hard liquor is not usually my thing but with friends’ and the bartender’s guidance, I chalked it up to a rather “spirited” learning experience.

chicken curry

Going “cuckoo” for Koko’s authentic Indian chicken curry. * Photo: Peter Knego

Intermittent rain greeted us in Boston on the next morning’s Freedom Trail walking excursion, a reasonably-priced Scenic Discovery tour. I made it back to the ship just in time for a fabulous chicken curry lunch in Koko’s.

Wandering and pondering the Eclipse that afternoon raised some concerns about all the sharp corner edges (passageway railings, counters, furnishings) on a ship that will be navigating some very rough seas.

Later, while resting in my stateroom, I also noted that the shelving was lacking lips and stays to prevent articles from sliding off. Hopefully by the time the ship is navigating the Drake Passage for her upcoming Antarctica season, some of these issues will have been addressed.

Lumiere restaurant aboard Scenic Eclipse

A spoon sculpture by Francois Bertrand greets guests at the entrance to Lumiere. * Photo: Peter Knego

When the skies cleared, I joined my writing colleague for a run around the harbor area. We met up again for dinner in Lumiere, the included but reservations-required fixed menu French eatery.  With my non-red meat, somewhat vegetarian diet, I figured I could just enjoy the ambiance as my friend consumed her photogenic courses, then head off to Koko’s or, in a pinch, get room service.

Well, once again, in the food and service department, Scenic exceeded expectations. Our waiter presented vegetarian alternatives to the fixed courses that were not only cruelty free but just as delicious and beautifully rendered.

From the first glass of Champagne to the very last scrape of the cheese platter, the entire dinner was culinary magic.

That evening, I saw no harm in our returning to the whiskey bar to sample more of those interesting malts. Of course, the following morning, when room service arrived, I found myself blearily questioning that choice.

dining on Scenic Eclipse

Bento Box tempura in KoKo’s. * Photo: Peter Knego

a cafe on board

Azure, where cappuccinos and Carrara marble connect. * Photo: Scenic Eclipse

I spent most of the sea day confined to my cabin, catching up on a writing assignment while taking advantage of Scenic’s strong, included Wi-Fi.  When I did venture out, it was to enjoy a Bento Box tempura lunch in KoKo’s, more cappuccinos (with less milk and extra foam) in Azure and a stress-reducing workout in the gym. Since KoKo’s teppanyaki room was fully booked, my final dinner on board would be yet another extravaganza of friendly, excellent service and artful sushi bar craftsmanship.

At Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on the final morning, we were provided with the exhilarating opportunity to test out one of the Eclipse’s helicopters.

Click below 👇🏼 to board one of Scenic Eclipse’s Airbus helicopters.

After signing a few liability forms we donned safety vests and were escorted to Deck 8 to board the chopper, a feat that prior to the Scenic Eclipse has been privy only to the occasional yacht-owning oligarch. Seating is assigned according to weight — no exceptions — but with its comfy seats surrounded in a bubble of glass, spectacular views were enjoyed by all.

Nova Scotia from above

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, from aloft. * Photo: Peter Knego

The pilot, an experienced military flyer, joked that this particular group was more interested in getting footage of the Eclipse than the gorgeous town and topography of Lunenburg. Commanding an average of $500 per guest, each 20-minute flight is a pricey but unique (for now) experience that will soon be offered on several newbuilding expedition ships.

The Eclipse’s other “toy,” the five-guest Scenic Neptune submarine, was also going to be deployed that day but it was sold out far in advance (at fares in the $250 range).

Scenic Eclipse from above

Parting glances — an aerial view of the mother ship off Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. * Photo: Peter Knego

Upon our return to the Eclipse, we had but moments to bid goodbye and hop the tender ashore for the ride to Halifax and our eventual flights home.

Afterthought: My four-night September sampling was probably a bit too early in the game and too brief to render a complete appraisal but hopefully this beautiful ship’s somewhat quirky design issues will be remedied or at least taken into account with her proposed sister ships.

As far as food and service go, even at this early stage in the ship’s career, Scenic hit it out of the park.

From the flawless room service where menu “write-ins” were graciously allowed, to the perfect cappuccinos, cookies and pastries in Azure and the excellent quality of the offerings in the humidity-challenged Yacht Club, even the most casual culinary experiences were top notch. Although Elements had some teething pains, Koko’s and Lumiere were proof that Scenic Eclipse’s highly touted six stars aren’t just skin deep.

QuirkyCruise Review

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kayaking in Alaska

Alaska Expedition Style

By Cele & Lynn Seldon.

We have cruised in Alaska quite a bit over the years, but we had never done it expedition-style, on a small ship with few passengers, exploring the nooks and crannies of Alaska’s Inside Passage. So, we decided to pursue just that last summer and chose to take it one step further by sailing with Alaskan Dream Cruises—an Alaska Native owned and operated line—to immerse ourselves completely in the Last Frontier.

Whale watching in Alaska

Whale watching off the bridge deck of the Admiralty Dream, Alaskan Dream Cruises. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Offering both “Signature” and “Adventure” itineraries, we decided to channel our inner explorer and chose the new seven-night “Last Frontier Adventure” from Juneau to Sitka.

Inside Passage itinerary

The new seven-night “Last Frontier Adventure” from Juneau to Sitka.

It offered more wilderness and a higher level of activity than many of their other itineraries,

We were attracted to the idea of hiking in rainforests, kayaking amongst the glaciers and exploring the glacial fjords of Alaska’s more remote locations—places the larger ships don’t go—instead of simply watching from the ship.

And, we weren’t disappointed.

kayaking in Alaska

Kayaking amongst the glaciers of Fords Terror, Endicott Arm, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Our trip started with an overnight in Juneau to adjust to the time change and the light change. Yep, it’s true what they say about close to 20 hours of daylight in the summer.

After a good night’s sleep (with the blackout curtains tightly closed), we dropped off our luggage at the Alaskan Dream Cruises (ADC) hospitality desk in our hotel. Then we had the rest of the morning free to explore Juneau’s compact and very walkable downtown, as well as enjoy a cup ‘o joe and some breakfast at Juneau’s own Heritage Coffee Roasting Company’s Glacier Café.

We met back at the hotel at noon for an ADC-hosted tour of the Alaska State Museum featuring world-class exhibits on the history, art and culture of the diverse people of Alaska’s varied regions. One of the highlights for us was the more than 15,000 Alaska native objects that depicted daily life, as well as ceremonial events. Alaska’s Russian heritage was also well represented with varied objects from the Russian colonial era including one of only two bronze double-headed eagle emblems in the world, a medallion presented to Alexander Baranov by Catherine the Great, and much more from the period. We also enjoyed the extensive Alaskan fine art collection featuring paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures.

Afterward, we boarded a bus and headed 12 miles out of town to what would be the first of many glaciers to come, Mendenhall Glacier. With plenty of time to explore the glacier and take a hike, we knew we were off to a good start when we (and lots of other people) stumbled upon a mother black bear and two cubs off the boardwalk at Steep Creek Trail.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQApYMTFzVU

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The Cozy Admiralty Dream

Back on the bus, we drove the rest of the short distance to Auke Bay, the location of the 54-passenger Admiralty Dream, our home away from home for the next week. At 143 feet in length and with 27 cabins, the ship is the second largest in ADC’s five-ship fleet. And, with just 32 passengers onboard for this sailing, it was going to feel even more spacious.

The Admiralty Dream

The Admiralty Dream, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

We were escorted to our cabin on the Upper Deck (there are three decks in total) and given a brief introduction to the few amenities. At 95 square feet, it wasn’t the smallest cabin we had experienced, but it was cozy. With two fixed twin beds along two of the walls, the third long wall consisted of a “shoilet” (a combined toilet and shower unit), a sink and vanity, and a closet. There was a small window next to the door that opened to let the fresh Alaskan air in and to watch the scenery sail by.

Although there was plenty of storage on shelves above the beds, underneath the beds and in the closet, there wasn’t a lot of room to move about. So we chose to let one person dress at a time while the other waited patiently on the bed or headed to the lounge for a cup of coffee. Perhaps next time, we’ll consider a larger cabin option or even a suite.

There weren’t any amenities found on most larger cruise ships (like television and copious electrical and USB outlets), but the beds were comfortable, and we slept like babies in our snug abode.

cabin aboard Admiralty Dream

The basic cabin aboard Admiralty Dream. * Photo: Alaskan Dream Cruises

We then headed to the lounge for our passenger welcome which, with such a small ship, wasn’t hard to find. Our expedition leader, also an Alaska native, did the introductions of the entire staff, explained the ship layout and details, gave us a brief rundown of the itinerary and performed a brief safety drill.

The lounge was a utilitarian space, with a well-stocked bar, plenty of seating, a 24-hour beverage station, fresh fruit and granola bars stashed on the bar and games, books, reference materials and a real-time radar map at the bow. The bulletin board leading into the lounge housed the weekly itinerary, staff bios, daily activities and any updates that would need to be disseminated.

bar on the Alaskan Dream Cruises

The Admiralty Dream bar. * Photo: Alaskan Dream Cruises

Related: Ted’s Alaska Small Ship Primer

Related: Big Ships vs Small Ships to Alaska

Mingling & Mealtime

Once we set sail, we enjoyed the first of nightly happy hours, along with featured hors d’oeuvres. It gave us an opportunity to size up the rest of the passengers, most of whom were fit and active 50- to 70-year olds, although there was a smattering of mid-30-year olds looking for a bit of adventure.

We were looking forward to a unique evening, in that the ship was making its first stop at the company-owned Orca Lodge for dinner. Located about 10 miles from Juneau, it is a private retreat along Stephens Passage that hosts a seafood feast for almost all ADC sailings. Since our itinerary was traveling from Juneau to Sitka, it was a wonderful way to kick off the cruise. Housed in a purpose-built resort setting with all the modern conveniences, amidst the idyllic wilderness of Colt Island and the sweeping snow-capped mountain views of Admiralty Island, it was a perfect spot to stop for the evening.

Alaskan Dream Cruises’ Orca Point Lodge, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Featuring an open and bright dining room, gift shop, touch tank, deck with picnic tables, lawn games like cornhole, a simmering campfire and a beach for strolling in the near perfect weather, it had the makings of a quintessential Alaska evening. It was a great way to get to know our fellow passengers, enjoy a cocktail (the ship operates on a cash bar system, settled at the end of the cruise by cash or credit card), play a round of cornhole or listen to the Native interpreter tell Tlingit stories around the campfire.

When the dinner bell rang, it was a feast of Alaskan King Crab legs, salmon, prime rib, salad, sides and blueberry cobbler and chocolate fondue for dessert.

Alaskan King Crab legs

Alaskan King Crab legs at Alaskan Dream Cruises’ Orca Point Lodge, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

For an authentic touch, they even had the fixings for s’mores over the open fire. Once back on board, we settled in for our first night’s sleep aboard Admiralty Dream as we set sail towards Glacier Bay.

Orca Point Lodge in Alaska

Cooking up s’mores over the campfire at Alaskan Dream Cruises’ Orca Point Lodge, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Related: QuirkyCruise contributor Judi Cohen’s UnCruise Alaska Adventure

Alaska — Day 1

Mornings on ADC offer an early riser continental breakfast in the lounge or open seating breakfast with a full menu, including a daily special, in the dining room a bit later.

In the wee hours, we had stopped at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve where a park ranger and Tlingit culturalist had boarded the ship. So, during breakfast, we enjoyed a birding lesson of what we’d be seeing in Glacier Bay over our eggs and salmon hash. Shortly afterwards, we spotted dozens of nesting tufted puffins, horned puffins, pigeon guillemots, cormorants and more on South Marble Island. There were also seals, sea lions, otters and even a humpback whale welcoming us to Glacier Bay.

This video from ADC highlights the wildlife you’re likely to see in Alaska.

As we continued sailing into 65-mile long Glacier Bay, we spent time chatting with the first mate in the open bridge, listening to a history lesson of Glacier Bay National Park in the lounge, and bird (and mountain goat) watching at Gloomy Knob.

We arrived at Reid Glacier just about noon and enjoyed the view over lunch in the dining room, featuring a daily choice of soup, two sandwiches, a salad or a burger (including a unique and tasty black bean option).

After lunch, we donned our ADC-provided rain jackets, pants, boots and lifejackets and broke into three groups for a Demaree Inflatable Boat (DIB) ride to the gravel mouth of the glacier and a hike along the silt bed up to the mass itself. We were able to touch it and some even climbed its craggy face.

Demaree Inflatable Boat (DIB)

DIB ride, Alaskan Dream Cruises, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Reid Glacier

Exploring Reid Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

After a DIB ride back to the ship, we spent the rest of the day reading, chatting with other guests and quizzing the ranger about the history of Glacier Bay National Park. We asked him why some glaciers look blue (with little internal air or reflective surfaces, the frozen water is free of contaminants and the absorbed sun is transmitted through the ice and returns as blue) and about the mating habits of tufted puffins.

Happy hour featured smoked salmon with tomatoes, red onion and capers on crackers, while dinner was a three-course regional cuisine affair with a nightly choice of two salads, one soup, two entrees and dessert. Baked salmon and roasted chicken breast were available every night as ADC classics. One free beer or glass of wine is served with dinner, but you are on your own after that. As we enjoyed our meal, the increase of icebergs floating by let us know we were getting close to the epicenter of Glacier Bay.

Salmon in Alaska

Alaskan salmon dinner aboard the Admiralty Dream, Alaskan Dream Cruises. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Over dessert, we came into view of the crown jewels—Glacier Bay, Marjorie Glacier and Grand Pacific Glacier—and anchored for the night.

One of the biggest selling points of ADC ships is their ability to navigate and anchor in some of the most spectacular places within the Inside Passage due to their vessels’ small size.

Marjorie Glacier in Alaska

Marjorie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

The rest of the evening was spent viewing these majestic glaciers on the bow and in the lounge, along with commentary by the park ranger. Although it was nighttime, it was still light enough to ooh and aah over the brilliant blue ice and occasional calving.

Alaska — Day 2

After a hearty Alaskan breakfast (think smoked salmon and blueberry pancakes), we donned our rain gear and went wildlife viewing in Geikie Inlet, where we spotted otters and bald eagles.

wildlife viewing in Glacier Bay National Park

Wildlife viewing at Geikie Inlet, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

As we pulled up the anchor to head to Bartlett Cove, we enjoyed lunch and a cultural session—complete with stories, music and regalia—with Mami, our onboard Huna Tlingit cultural heritage ambassador. She shared stories of her ancestors, sang native Tlingit songs and described what it was like to grow up in rural Alaska.

Hoonah Tlingit cultural heritage ambassador in Alaska

Mami, the Hoonah Tlingit cultural heritage ambassador aboard Admiralty Dream. * Photo: Seldon Ink

We spent the afternoon exploring Glacier Bay Lodge in Bartlett Cove. The only commercial property within Glacier Bay National Park, the lodge features two Glacier Bay Visitor Centers, lodging, a restaurant, gift shop and Glacier Bay exhibits.

There are also hiking trails, kayak rentals, boat tours, a Tlingit totem pole and a Tlingit Tribal house with an on-site storyteller sharing history of the Huna people and their relationship with Glacier Bay. The evening was spent over cocktails, dinner and an evening presentation on plankton with the onboard naturalist.

Huna Tribal House, Glacier Bay Lodge, Alaska

Huna Tribal House, Glacier Bay Lodge, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Alaska — Day 3

Probably our favorite day of the cruise was spent surrounded by the waterfalls and icebergs of Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, a very steep, narrow fjord carved out by glacial ice within Endicott Arm. With sign-ups for kayaking and DIB trips, all guests could take advantage of both throughout the day.

Kayaking lessons in Alaska

Kayak briefing. * Photo: Seldon Ink

We opted to be one of the first groups to kayak in the morning, in case we wanted to go out again in the afternoon. After a brief safety lesson, we boarded our tandem kayaks and were free to explore the massive waterfalls and stunning blue icebergs up close and personal.

kayaking among the icebergs

Kayaking amongst the glaciers in Fords Terror, Endicott Arm, Alaska. * Photo: Bret Love courtesy GreenGlobalTravel.com.

After a late-morning DIB ride deeper into Fords Terror, we enjoyed a second kayak paddle that afternoon and literally had the waterfalls and icebergs to ourselves.

Kayaking in Ford's Terror,

Kayaking in Ford’s Terror, Endicott Arm, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Warm cookies and hot chocolate were waiting back on the ship (as they were every afternoon), along with happy hour, dinner and communal whale watching from the lounge, bow or bridge as we set sail for our next destination.

Open bridge on an Alaska cruise

Open bridge of Admiralty Dream. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Related: Ted’s Alaska Adventures Over the Years

Alaska — Day 4

Hump day was spent in our only true port-of-call, the town of Wrangell (population 2,400). Groups boarded small buses for a morning tour, including a tour of the well-done Wrangell Museum. We paid a visit to the Native American natural rock carvings that depicted whales, salmon, native symbols and faces of the community at Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site and we also did a mile-high hike up to Rainbow Falls.

Petroglyphs in Alaska

Petroglyphs at Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site, Wrangell, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Afterwards, we enjoyed a fish chowder lunch on our own at Hungry Beaver Pizza & Marine Bar (they only serve their scratch pizzas after 4pm) and explored the charming Northern Exposure-esque town.

Alaska — Day 5

Back in natural Alaska, we spent the morning hiking up to Cascade Falls in Thomas Bay—divided into three groups: active, intermediate and leisurely. With a short DIB ride to the shore, each group took off deep into the rainforest for a moist hike following along the pounding waters coming off the mountain. The active group made it all the way to Falls Lake, while the other two groups enjoyed shorter versions and lots of Alaska flora and fauna.

The violent waters of Cascade Fall

The violent waters of Cascade Falls, Thomas Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Seldon Ink

Cascade Falls, Thomas Bay, Alaska

The crashing waters of Cascade Falls, Thomas Bay. * Photo: Seldon Ink

The plan after lunch was to take a DIB ride to Baird Glacier, but after a failed attempt by the first group—due to low tides—everyone spent the afternoon reading, napping, watching for wildlife or playing games in the lounge. Happy hour and dinner were pleasant affairs and the evening was spent with a Q&A about plankton with the naturalist and a bedtime story about the discovery of Alaska and how it impacts us today by the expedition leader.

Alaska — Day 6

The sun came out on our final day and we enjoyed an unseasonably warm hike through an old growth rainforest to Lake Eva on Baranof Island. Once back on board, a polar plunge was arranged off the stern of the ship for those interested. A hot bowl of smoked salmon chowder or spot prawn boil waited for lunch afterward.

Naturally the testosterone-leaning member of Team Seldon participated and he found himself questioning his manhood afterwards.

Another DIB ride to Basket Beach and a short walk for those interested was the afternoon activity.

After happy hour, everyone enjoyed the captain’s reception in the dining room, with the entire staff in attendance, the captain holding court and a celebratory dinner of Beef Wellington or butter braised halibut. The evening continued back in the lounge with a decadent dessert display and a slideshow recap of our wild week.

And, in fitting fashion, we were escorted by a group of frolicking orcas as we literally sailed into the sunset towards our port of disembarkation in Sitka.

For booking info, visit Alaskan Dream Cruises.

Read more about cruising Alaska on a small ship.

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Affordable Antarctica aboard the Ushuaia

Affordable Antarctica – Relatively Speaking

By Ted Scull.

It is well understood that anyone looking at the QuirkyCruise site will likely have aspirations to travel aboard ships that do not resemble giant floating resorts with thousands of folks aboard. Lots of cruisers love them, but here we prefer to cover ship travel that provides experiences shared with a much shorter passenger list.

The Corinthian in Antarctica

The Corinthian glides by a huge Iceberg in Antarctic Sound. * Photo: Posiedon Adventures

Perhaps it’s a ship that can take us to smaller ports in popular countries that avoids the crowds. Maybe it’s entirely another world, well over the horizon, and in a class by itself.

Antarctica Dreaming ….

One such place is Antarctica. It was once only sought after by trophy hunters with some seeking fame, intrepid explorers, scientists representing many fields of interests, and governments looking after their national interests by establishing bases there.

In the southern hemisphere summertime, it’s a white winter paradise with deep blue skies and amazingly sculptured ice formations. Strutting penguins in the hundreds that may scoot across the ice on their bellies, while leopard and Weddell seals lounge on the shoreline. The volcanic soil from still active Deception Island is surprisingly warm.

Affordable Antarctica

Chinstraps on Half Moon Island. * Photo: Ted Scull

Why so Costly?

Antarctic cruises are expensive because the high costs of operating ships to get there and back. As they are going remote, they must be totally self-sufficient. They must carry special equipment for going ashore and also employ a staff of salaried naturalists who are an integral part of any expedition cruise.

The vast majority leave from the southern extremities of South America with Ushuaia, Argentina handling the most sailings and Punta Arenas, Chile in second place.

International flights arrive at Buenos Aires or Santiago, then it’s an additional 3.5 air hours to the ship at either port. At the minimum, there will likely be one-night hotel stays at the beginning and end of the Antarctic voyage. If you choose additional days in Argentina or Chile, the cost per day will be lower than aboard ship. Hey, it’s worth considering as you have come all this way.

The shortest cruises last about ten or 11 days with four or five days ashore in the South Shetlands and the Antarctic Peninsula. The other half is crossing the Drake Passage twice. The days aboard are anything but a waste of time with the naturalist team preparing you well for what’s ahead and putting everything in perspective on the way back.

Longer cruises add more landings in Antarctica as well as exploring the Falkland Islands (a British dependency) and include extra sea time. Adding South Georgia requires another week and a lot of sea time but for those who can afford it, the rewards are far more birdlife than you are likely to see anywhere else, dramatic landscapes, and connections to the legendary Shackleton Expedition.

So, what are the less expensive ships like, and will I miss something by not being able to spend more for an upmarket ship with all the bells and whistles?

Affordable Antarctica

Breaking ice en route to the next landing. * Photo: Adventure Smith

Let’s Start with the Latter…The High End

The upper end of the cruise market has developed a following that often places the high-end amenities of suite accommodations (with balconies), haute cuisine, fine wines, abundant staff, spas, and some with helicopter rides as de rigueur when they cruise.

Once such luxury was not available on expedition ships and now with the burgeoning popularity of cruising to the White Continent, many cruise lines have built expedition ships with all the creature comforts and even the thrills of diving in a submersible and winging over the ice in a chopper.

All this luxury costs plenty so per diems start at roughly $1,000 per day and continue on up from there.

Now, Let’s Consider the Affordable Antarctica Options

The lowest rates for expedition travel start at about $500 per person per day, maybe lower if promotions appear when cabin space is still available closer to the departure dates. Preparing to make an Antarctic expedition takes some thought, organization and preparation. One does not just pack a suitcase and head to the ship.

The lower brochure rates are generally available on older ships that may have started out as a research vessel or a working ship in Scandinavian waters, while others were purpose-built when Antarctica began to become a sought-after destination.

These sturdy ships, fully paid for and generally debt free, often have lots of character not found on sleek new ships. And what’s equally important, they offer simpler types of accommodations that bring the rates down and offer travelers affordable Antarctica.

The Hapag Lloyd Inspiration

Hapag Lloyd Inspiration, a new ship for polar exploration. * Photo: Hapag Lloyd Expedition Cruises

Affordable Antarctica: Cabins & Amenities

Cabins may be smaller and have a porthole rather than a picture window, beds may be referred to as berths or bunks, some configured side by side with a night table in between. Some may offer an upper berth for a third person.

These cabins may be sold as a unit or to single travelers (of the same gender) willing to share and save a bundle over a single-rate single occupancy cabin. Some few may be inside, that is without a porthole or window, again at an even lower rate. Time in your cabin other than sleeping is minimal because of all the goings on beyond your sleeping quarters.

Most cabins will have private shower, toilet and washbasin, and some few may share these facilities with a small number of other cabins. With the latter, the passage rate drops even further.

The public spaces are shared by all and will invariably include a dining room, a separate bar/lounge, and covered, sheltered and open spaces for viewing from the ship. The shared experience with the others aboard will, for most, will be a major plus for the amazing experience ahead.

Affordable Antarctica

Towering ice formation may not look big but it is 250 feet high. * Photo: Ted Scull

Affordable Antarctica: Expeditions Lines Offering Lower Rates

(As prices fluctuate, rates listed here are a starter guide.)

ADVENTURE SMITH

$4,860 for 10 days (4 days in South Shetland and Antarctica Peninsula).

Vessel: USHUAIA carries up to 90 passengers; ex-NOAA built 1970 and speed of 11 knots. Cheapest rates are in an upper/lower berth double with porthole, washbasin and shared shower facilities between two cabins; also single berth in a triple with three lower berths, private facilities and a window.

Affordable Antarctica aboard the Ushuaia

The 90-passenger USHUAIA was built in 1990. * Photo: Adventure Smith

G ADVENTURES

$6,099 for 11 days (6 days in S. Shetland and Antarctic Peninsula); $7799 for 13 days.

Vessel: G EXPEDITION built in 1972; 134 passengers; speed of 13 knots. Category 1a is 2 upper berths and 2 down with private facilities; porthole; Cat 1 with 1 upper berth, 2 down; full private facilities, porthole; Cat 2 with twin beds, full private facilities; porthole, no single supplements.

G EXPEDITION in Antarctica

The 134-passenger G EXPEDITION. * Photo: G Adventures.

QUARK EXPEDITIONS

$4,800 for 11 days (March 2020); $5,700 for 11 days (December 2020)* (with 4 days visiting Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetlands).

Vessel: OCEAN ENDEAVOUR carries 199 passengers; speed of 15 knots. Triple with 3 lower berths and inside; twin with 2 lower berths and porthole; upper and lower berth (76 sq. ft.). *OCEAN DIAMOND takes 189 passengers; speed 15 knots. All cabins exterior, though some with partially blocked views; single cabins with no supplement, twins and some with a third berth.

OCEAN ENDEAVOUR in Antarctica

The 199-passenger OCEAN ENDEAVOUR. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Affordable Antarctica: Discounted Sailings

These rates above are all from the brochure (printed and online at the time of writing), so sally forth as it’s the discounted sailings that can bring on other higher-priced lines that may match the per diems above.

And the trio of lines already presented will also offer discounts bringing per diems well under $500 a day, so your budget may be able to spring for a longer cruise that adds the Falkland Islands and maybe even South Georgia.

Yes, some discounts as high as 50% are close-in departures but press on and they may exist much further out with some still 50% off and then a sliding scale 40%, 30%, and 20%.

QuirkyCruise.com covers 22 lines that offer Antarctic Expeditions, so there is a lot of inventory that needs to be sold. Look for last-minute discounts, if you can gather yourself together for an expedition a month or two ahead. There are plenty of options, but it is too changeable to list them here.

Also, if you like to book well ahead — 12-18 months — you can lock in favorable rates.

Affordable Antarctica

Junior Suite aboard Aurora Expeditions’s brad-new Greg Mortimer. * Photo: Aurora Expeditions

 

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Hurtigruten's new Roal

Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen

by Anne Kalosh.

All ship christenings are exciting and special. But that of Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen was also very unusual and historic.

On Nov. 7, the world’s first hybrid battery-powered cruise vessel was named in spectacular surroundings. The 530-passenger Roald Amundsen became the first ship christened in Antarctica, in Chiriguano Bay, ringed by the snow-covered peaks of Brabant Island.

Passengers watched the naming ceremony from the water, in Zodiacs. They were joined by passengers and crew from another Hurtigruten ship, Midnatsol, also on an Antarctica expedition cruise.

The happy naming party aboard their Zodiac

The happy naming party aboard their Zodiac. Godmother Karin Strand stands with Roald Amundsen Capt. Kai Albrigtsen. * Photo: Shayne McGuire for Hurtigruten

Instead of Champagne, a Chunk of Ice

The godmother was Norway’s Karin Strand, 48, who has completed more than 140 expeditions to the White Continent, making her one of the most experienced explorers in adventure travel.

Instead of the traditional Champagne, she used a chunk of ice, a ritual invented by polar hero Roald Amundsen himself.

Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen is christened with a chunk of ice

Godmother Karin Strand gives the rope holding a chunk of ice a yank to send it smashing against the hull. * Photo: Shayne McGuire for Hurtigruten

Quoting Amundsen

Standing in a Zodiac, Strand gave a rope tied to an upper overhang on the ship a mighty yank, sending the ice smashing against the hull.

She quoted Amundsen’s words when he christened the polar ship Maud in 1917: “It is not my intention to dishonor the glorious grape, but already now you shall get the taste of your real environment. For the ice you have been built, in the ice you shall stay most of your life, and in the ice, you shall solve your tasks.”

The ship’s namesake is one of the greatest explorers of all time. Amundsen led the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage, the first expedition to the South Pole and the first expedition proven to have reached the North Pole.

Karin Strand aboard the Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen

‘For the ice you have been built … ‘ Polar explorer Karin Strand, the godmother, quotes the ship’s namesake, Roald Amundsen. * Photo: Andrea Klaussner for Hurtigruten

Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions

“For all of us on board MS Roald Amundsen this is a very special day for a very special ship,” Capt. Kai Albrigtsen said. “She is the most innovative vessel to hit the waters in decades and we hope she will serve as an inspiration for others to follow.”

Roald Amundsen uses large battery packs to support its low-emission engines, reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by more than 20 percent compared to other cruise ships of the same size.

“I believe Roald Amundsen would be proud,” Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam said at the festivities. “With the ship carrying his name and legacy, Hurtigruten is pushing borders, challenging the industry and pushing towards a greener and more sustainable operation. As Roald Amundsen was the symbol of a new era of exploration, MS Roald Amundsen is the symbol of a new era in the cruise industry.”

Celebrating the ice smash

Hurrah! Celebrating the ice smash, from left, are Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam, ship’s godmother Karin Strand and Capt. Kai Albrigtsen. * Photo: Andrea Klaussner for Hurtigruten

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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The 18-passenger Tucano.

Amazon Expedition Cruises.

By Anne Kalosh.

QuirkyCruise’s Anne Kalosh talks with Mark Baker, the founder of Amazon Nature Tours (www.amazon-nature-tours.com). Sailing in Brazil’s deep Amazon aboard the small, eco-friendly vessel Tucano, travelers explore the dense forests and small tributaries within the Central Amazon Conservation Complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is one of the planet’s richest places in terms of biodiversity.

Brazil map

Map: commons.wikimedia

Most of the four- and six-night journeys are spent on the Rio Negro, the least inhabited major river in the Amazon basin. Led by trained naturalists, these expedition cruises include kayak and launch excursions, hikes, visits to native villages, fishing for piranhas and beach outings.

The Amazon & Rio Negro map

The Amazon & Rio Negro.

Recently Brazil eliminated the tourist visa requirement for citizens of the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia, making it easier and less costly to travel to the country. However, there’s been an international outcry over fires in the Amazon, which have sharply increased this year. Activists say the anti-environment rhetoric of President Jair Bolsonaro has emboldened tree-clearing by farmers and ranchers since he took office in January.

QC: Given the Amazon fires and some calls to boycott trips to Brazil as a result, what would you advise mindful travelers?

Mark Baker: A boycott of travel to Brazil would have a very negative consequence on rain forest preservation. The travel industry is one of the strongest voices in conservation and has a very positive effect on public policy. By enabling travelers to experience the natural wonders of the Amazon, the travel industry helps generate international will to support conservation as well as serve in the vital role of environmental education, one of the most powerful forces for change.

Amazon Expedition Cruises' Mark Baker

Mark Baker, a boatbuilder from Rhode Island, fell in love with the Amazon and created a tour company in 1988. * Photo: Amazon-Nature-Tours.com

QC: Do your trips go anywhere near the fires?

Mark Baker: What may be hard for many of us to grasp is the grand size of the Amazon. It’s as big as the continental United States. While the pace of deforestation has increased this year, fortunately, the scale of the region is so large that it is not perceivable where we operate. We voyage in the state of Amazonas which, if it were a country, would be the 13th biggest in the world.

The forest in the grand extent of the Amazonas is not at all impacted by the fires. There is no smoke in the air. We are fortunate that the state of Amazonas is only about 3 percent deforested and where the cruises take place, on the Rio Negro, there is no commercial logging or agricultural development so we are able to enjoy the wild forest.

We absolutely support efforts for rain forest conservation, and one of the most important and necessary steps in this endeavor is environmental education. This is a mission of ours for our 30 years of operations and we remain dedicated and committed to sharing the beauties of the Amazon and the need to preserve them.

Amazon Expedition Cruises

A brilliant macaw. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: What drew you to the Amazon?

Mark Baker: It’s truly a quirky story. There’s a family myth: My great great-great-grandfather was Daniel Boone. I’ve always been a lover of nature, since I was small, poking around in the woods. I had a coonskin cap.

I’m a boatbuilder by trade, in Rhode Island. I took a vacation in 1980. As a professional mariner, I took a position on a sailboat as a crew member. When I finally got to Manaus I was so captivated, I decided I was going to make a life out of this somehow.

I started a lumber company, importing wood from Brazil into the United States. I would fly all over the Amazon to zones where big machines were cutting down trees. I did that for eight years. In the end, I just could not do it any more.

I realized you can appreciate the nature of this place but not support the destruction of the forest. So in 1988, I transitioned to a travel company.

In the Brazilian Amazon, you’re surrounded by thousands of miles forest, but it’s almost impenetrable. The way to get into it is by boat. It is a perfect way to see it and explore. So this was a very happy meeting of my two passions.

QC: Your company promises “true expedition cruises.” What does that mean?

Mark Baker: It’s not a boat experience. It’s an expedition experience. We use the boat as a vehicle to explore. It’s really about getting us to where we want to be. We take four or five excursions a day, so we’re only on the boat 10 or 11 hours.

Our six-night cruises are 230 miles one-way. We go into a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’re pretty much the only regular boat. There are few people. No extractions of any kind are allowed. Fishing is limited. It’s a true wilderness.

When you come into a really remote place, you start to really understand what nature is like. There are no engine sounds. You have a true sense of the howling wilderness. You don’t walk off 100 yards on your own. We’d never find you.

It’s scary, thrilling and, in the end, captivating.

QC: What kind of experiences can people have on your trips?

Mark Baker: They’re very active. We offer four or more excursions every day. We divide into two groups, a science group and an adventure group. People can choose which one (for each excursion), so everyone’s happy.

The science group goes out in 10-meter launches, birdwatching, learning about plants and animals. It’s a wilderness experience but not physically taxing.

The adventure group goes hiking or kayaking. It’s a really physical experience.

The 18-passenger Tucano.

Passengers can kayak directly from the 18-passenger Tucano. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

The science group goes out first in the morning, at 6 a.m., when the birds are out, feeding. They come back and have a big breakfast. Everybody goes out at 10. Both groups walk in the forest for about an hour. These are really wilderness trails but travelers don’t have to use a machete. The adventure group continues for about two hours.

Everyone comes back at about noon, when it’s getting hot. We fire up the main engine and travel until 3:30 or 4.

In the afternoon, everybody goes out in the launches. They’re back around 6 or 6:30. The sun goes down. They have dinner.

At 7:30 or 8, they go out for the night wildlife, always by launch, to see the nocturnal animals. It can be a little bit scary.

sloth on an Amazon Expedition Cruise

A sloth in the Amazon. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: What’s the boat like?

Mark Baker: We built Tucano. It’s been in service since 1997. It’s had four refits since then. You want it to feel new. Most recently it was out of service for a month. I am by profession a boatbuilder so we did it ourselves. We took it apart and put it back together.

We were really pressing on sustainability and made substantial modifications to make Tucano more thermally insulated, in order to expand solar energy use. We peeled off the exterior vertical walls and added double and triple insulation in the interstices and put in new windows that are thermally protected. Almost 25 percent of the energy used on board is solar.

We’ve replaced the exterior with a type of aluminum. We designed a method to not use wood. Our process is solar-powered electricity. There’s not a lack of it but we don’t want to waste it. We store the solar power because we have electric launches that we use every day. We’re making ice with it. Our galley refrigerator and freezer run on solar power. We heat the water for showers with it as well.

My goal is to make our main salon air-conditioned by solar power. This enables us to turn off all the machines and have absolute silence for four hours a day. The solar power hours are generally in the early morning and late afternoon when the boat is at anchor and most people are on excursions. The air-conditioning system does not operate during this time but because of the insulation, the boat stays cool.

These hours are a good time to enjoy the stillness and appreciate the sounds of the forest.

Iguana on an Amazon expedition cruise

An Amazon iguana. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: Are people roughing it on Tucano then?

Mark Baker: Tucano has air-conditioned cabins with 700-thread-count Egyptian cottons, chocolates on the beds. It’s not a luxury experience but very comfortable, very sophisticated.

Each cabin has a private bathroom. There are two showers, one with solar-heated water, the other, diesel-electric-heated water.

At lunch and dinner, you get choices of entrees. It’s Brazilian cuisine. Lots of fruits, fish, quite sophisticated flavors and presentation. We have five kinds of fruit-flavored ice creams.

We carry lots of vegetarians and vegans. We ask everyone to fill out an information sheet so we can design the menus accordingly.

Our staff have worked with us for decades. We have eight crew members, all Brazilians. There are just 18 travelers.

Read QuirkyCruise contributor David Cogwell’s article about his week on the Tucano.

The Tucano's dining area.

Tucano’s ample salon has large windows and serves as the dining area and lounge. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: Who are your customers?

Mark Baker: People from all around the globe. This notion of exploring the Amazon features in the dreams of people from around the world. There may be four or five languages or nationalities on our cruises. The common point is they all love nature. They have a sense of adventure.

One-third are from the U.S. One-third are from Europe, a lot from the U.K. and Benelux. We have people from as far away as India.

Some travelers take our cruise as part of a Brazil package.

There’s always a real affinity with the other travelers. We want to have a congenial group. Some people form lifelong bonds.

QC: Should people be fit?

Mark Baker: We ask that people be healthy. Some people will come and stay on the boat (and not take the excursions). We’re always at anchor and they can see interesting things. Good health is necessary but athleticism is not.

QC: Do you allow children?

Mark Baker: It’s absolutely appropriate for children. We have some discounts for them, too. They need to be at least 7 years old. It’s a lot of fun to have children with us. In July and August we have lots of extended families — grandparents, parents, children. They go swimming, catch piranhas and we eat them. We find all kinds of strange creatures.

QC: What kind of wildlife can travelers see?

Mark Baker: One hundred kinds of birds — pygmy kingfishers, hoatzins, harpy eagles, king vultures with a wingspan of seven feet.

The primates include big groups of howler monkeys, spider monkeys, two to three species of tiny marmosets.

amazon expedition cruises

See (and hear!) gorgeous howler monkeys in the Amazon. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

Collared peccaries are really unusual. Giant river otters.

It takes real discipline to see some things. We teach people how to watch in the forest. We’re quiet and use hand signals. We try not to wear bright colors.

Outboard motors make noise that scares off animals. We use electric motors.

Amazon Nature Expeditions

Part of Tucano’s Sun Deck is covered with a shade canopy. * Photo: Amazon Nature Tours

QC: Does the experience vary by season?

Mark Baker: We begin our voyages at about two degrees from the equator. There are rainy and dry seasons, but it doesn’t rain as much in this central part as in other places in the Amazon.

The rainy season is from about mid-December to mid-May. There’s really interesting bird life from February to April/May.

The dry season runs August to November. From June to September, the water depth is lower so it’s a really good time to see pretty much everything — lots of birds, primates, plants.

In September you start to see dramatic changes. The water goes down. It’s much hotter. There are countless fish. Lots of dolphins. Every kind of fishing bird. Caiman. It’s a really good time for raptors.

In October-November, it’s extremely hot.

QC:  What does a trip cost, and what’s included?

Mark Baker: There are nine cabins. The daily rate is $600 to $650 per person, and the lower category rooms cost 30 percent less. There are two single cabins.

The cost includes excursions, meals, water. There are very few extras, with the exception of alcohol and soda. We’re sober naturalists, but we do have a party the last night with music and caipirinhas for everybody.

QC: How should people prepare for a trip like this?

Mark Baker: We send a 24-page pre-departure booklet that tells about some suggested equipment and the perspective travelers should have. We ask people to focus on the nature and history and think of themselves as explorers for knowledge.

Stay focused. That’s what hunters do. They are ecological hunters. Look and listen.

When people are focused, we see lots more than would be possible otherwise.

🦜

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Oceanwide Expeditions new Hondius

Arctic Cruise.

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

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

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

Oceanwide Expeditions new Hondius

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

Joining the Ship in Scotland

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

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

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

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

Dining, Drinks & Inspecting the Ship

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

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

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

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

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

The main lounge of Oceanwide Expeditions Hondius

The main lounge. * Photo: William J. Mayes

Lectures & Recaps

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

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

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

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

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

First Landing at Fair Isle

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

Landing at Fair Isle on an Arctic Cruise with Oceanwide Expeditions

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

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

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

Lucky Landing at Jan Mayen

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

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

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

Heading into the Ice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open bridge on brand new Hondius

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

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

Polar Bear Sighting

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

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

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

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

Hondius off Longyearbyn on its inaugural Arctic cruise

Hondius off Longyearbyen. * Photo: William J. Mayes

The Passengers & Staff

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

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

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

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

Twin cabin aboard the Hondius

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

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The 146-passenger Resolute was the base for the first ever Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit.

First Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit at Sea.

By Ben Lyons, CEO of EYOS Expeditions.

As anyone who has sailed on a small or quirky ship knows, a sense of community and shared experience is one of the biggest joys of being onboard. With the idea to foster that communal spirit, One Ocean Expedition’s 146-passenger RCGS Resolute was transformed from expedition cruise ship into a floating summit recently.

On board was a diverse group of key influencers and corporations came together to address the increasing problem of ocean plastic.

The 146-passenger Resolute was the base for the first ever Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit.

The 146-passenger Resolute was the base for the first ever Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit. * Photo: Bryan Liscinsky

First Ever Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit at Sea

Called the Ocean Plastics Leadership Summit, the meeting was the brain child of SoulBuffalo Expeditions, which organizes purpose driven, socially responsible conferences. Working with expedition specialists EYOS Expeditions, SoulBuffalo chartered the Resolute and invited various stakeholders to Bermuda for the four-night conference at sea.

Attendees spanned the entire spectrum from large corporations such as Dow, Proctor and Gamble, and Hasbro; NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) working to reduce plastic consumption; waste management organizations that collect and recycle plastics; and artists and activists.

Attendees at the 4-day conference at sea represented stakeholders across many sectors.

Attendees at the 4-day conference at sea represented stakeholders across many sectors. * Photo: Bryan Liscinsky

Media, including National Geographic and Outside magazine, were also onboard to cover the expedition.

The summit began with a beach clean-up on one of Bermuda’s beaches that, at first glance, seems pristine. Digging closer, however, participants found a plethora of small “micro” plastics that littered the beach and were embedded in the washed-up sargassum. Large pieces of plastic were also recovered, as well, such as a 50-gallon plastic drum that had to be dug out of the sand.

Sailing into the Middle of a Gyre

The next morning, Resolute sailed out of Bermuda and into the open Atlantic. We cruised right into the middle of the North Atlantic Gyre, one of the world’s five main gyres (or vortex)  where plastic tends to accumulate due to ocean currents.

After a morning session hearing from various stakeholders, the expedition capability of Resolute was put to use. All 160 participants were able to take to Zodiacs in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and go snorkeling on a large patch of sargassum in almost 8,000 feet of water.

The group snorkeled around a large patch of sargassum in almost 8,000 feet of water.

The group snorkeled around a large patch of sargassum in almost 8,000 feet of water. * Photo: Bryan Liscinsky

Seeing firsthand what was floating just at the surface in and around the sargassum in this one stretch of ocean was startling. The common perception of these “garbage patches” is perhaps a bit inaccurate — the ocean still looked pristine from the Zodiacs. However, once we were in the water snorkeling, large pieces of plastic were quickly recovered — a toilet seat, a speaker, several cups, toothbrushes and more.

The group found toothbrushes floating around the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The group found toothbrushes floating around the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. * Photo: Tom Gruber

The Microplastic Menace

And it was evident how numerous the microplastics were. One participant described it as a “plastic smog.” Trawling for microplastics was also conducted by several Zodiacs, and an onboard lab dissected locally-caught fish to examine the presence of microplastics in the food chain.

An onboard lab dissected locally-caught fish to examine the presence of microplastics in the food chain.

An onboard lab dissected locally-caught fish to examine the presence of microplastics in the food chain. * Photo: Bryan Liscinsky

Throughout the next two days, Resolute sailed the waters of the North Atlantic as participants broke into working groups throughout the ship — some in the lounge, some enjoying the beautiful weather by electing to work on deck — to tackle the challenges in their respective fields.

The unique location of having everyone together on a ship — whether enjoying a BBQ on deck or stepping into a Zodiac — allowed participants with very different perspectives to engage directly in a way that a normal conference could never achieve.

The Resolute sailed the waters of the North Atlantic as participants broke into working groups.

The Resolute sailed the waters of the North Atlantic as participants broke into working groups to discuss solutions and strategies to the scourge of plastic waste. * Photo: Bryan Liscinsky

At the end of the expedition, numerous pledges were made and roadmaps laid out. Collectively we also presented 30-, 60- and 90-day plans for review. And most significantly, dialogue is now ongoing and energized.

There are already plans for a similar summit to follow up on the success of this year’s expedition.

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