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Lindblad Antarctic cruise last year

Antarctica Cruises Are On Ice

By Anne Kalosh.

One of the last Antarctica hopefuls, Lindblad Expeditions, has just canceled the season — making travel to the White Continent another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Antarctica cruises typically get under way in October/November and stretch into March.

Ponant may be the sole holdout, and the company’s website still lists early 2021 departures.

But it will be challenging to make these happen.

Most other Antarctica operators bowed out earlier — Hurtigruten, Poseidon Expeditions, Quark, Aurora Expeditions, Silversea Cruises, to name a few.

Lindblad Antarctic cruise last year

Would be White Continent explorers will likely have to wait a year. Here Lindblad Expeditions in a past season. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

Borders Closed

Nearly all Antarctica expeditions operate from Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina, with a smaller number from Punta Arenas, Chile. A few sail from Argentina’s Puerto Madryn or Buenos Aires, and a handful of special, longer adventures use New Zealand as a turnaround point.

Most Antarctica travelers are sourced from remote markets like the United States, China, Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Currently, Argentina only allows visitors from nearby Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, while Chile and New Zealand are closed to non-residents.

Lindblad had crafted a “bubble” program with charter air and planned to send its newest ship, National Geographic Endurance, delivered in March but yet to operate because of the pandemic.

Lindblad Expeditions.

Antarctica cruises canceled including Nat Geo Endurances

National Geographic Endurance is charting Antarctica in 2021-22 after having to miss the current season. * Photo: Lindblad Expeditions

‘Major Hurdles’

However, the obstacles were too great, CEO Sven Lindblad said.

Until recently, his company had been working on a “special dispensation” with South American authorities, based on the strength of Lindblad’s health protocols. Then COVID cases spiked in the U.S., the line’s main market.

It didn’t make economic sense for Lindblad to forge ahead with the possibility of the virus getting further out of hand in the coming months.

Not long before, Hurtigruten had thrown in the towel.

“International travel restrictions and port closures are changing rapidly, often from day to day. There is currently a ban of cruise ship operations in many waters, and most flights to our departure ports in Argentina and Chile are canceled,” Hurtigruten Group CEO Daniel Skjeldam explained.

“The situation is still fluid, and developments are unpredictable,” he continued. “There are still major hurdles to overcome. As of now, they do not show much promise to be resolved in time to explore Antarctica under our strict health and safety standards in the coming months.”

Looking to the 2021/22 Season

Many lines are now offering incentives for travelers to book the 2021/22 season.

Poseidon Expeditions‘ first voyage, “Antarctic Awakening,” begins Oct. 20, 2021, with a hotel overnight in Buenos Aires before the 114-passenger Sea Spirit sails the following day. Early-booking savings are currently available for this 22-night program, which visits the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, South Georgia Island, the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands before ending at Ushuaia.

With the savings, rates for the U.S. market start at $11,696 per person, instead of $12,995.

Poseidon Expeditions.

Sea Spirit

Early-booking savings are available for Sea Spirit’s Antarctic Awakening trip in October 2021. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

New Ships & Solar Eclipse

Newcomer Atlas Ocean Voyages plots 14 journeys for World Navigator’s inaugural 2021/22 Antarctica season. Most span nine nights while two are 12-nighters, all round-trip Ushuaia. The Nov. 28, 2021, expedition will feature solar eclipse viewing on Dec. 4. Fares for that special voyage start at $15,299, including airfare.

Current Atlas promotions include a 50 percent reduced booking deposit, a $200 “use as you choose” credit and airfare upgrades to business class for booking a suite. (Atlas bundles flights into its pricing.)

Atlas Ocean Voyages.

Atlas Ocean Voyages World Navigator

World Navigator will be among the ships on hand for the Dec. 4 solar eclipse. * Photo: Atlas Ocean Voyages

Polar specialist Quark is scheduled to send its new ship, Ultramarine, next season, among several other vessels. The 199-passenger Ultramarine will debut in the White Continent with an “Antarctic Explorer” itinerary of 10 nights, embarking at Buenos Aires. A current offer gives savings of up to 28 percent, with fares starting at $10,795 per person.

Among its other ships, Quark’s Ocean Diamond will sail a solar eclipse cruise, part of a 20-day program round-trip Ushuaia that begins with a hotel overnight on Nov. 25, 2021. With a current offer of up to 10 percent savings, fares for this start at $15,295.

Sixteen years ago, a group of Quark passengers witnessed a solar eclipse in Antarctica and the company is bringing back its special guest expert from the 2003 voyage, retired NASA scientist Fred Espenak.

Quark Expeditions.

Quark Expeditions' Ultramarine will be new for Antarctica next year

Quark Expeditions’ Ultramarine will be among the new ships in Antarctica. * Rendering: Quark Expeditions

Oceanwide Expeditions‘ new ship Janssonius is scheduled to debut with a 20-night voyage to South Georgia and the Falkland/Malvinas islands, sailing from Puerto Madryn on Nov. 5, 2021, and ending at Ushuaia. The 174-passenger vessel is the sister of 2019’s Hondius. The trip is priced starting at $12,600 per person.

The 19-night Antarctica cruise on Janssonius that follows, Nov. 25, will feature the solar eclipse. Fares for this round-trip Ushuaia expedition start at $16,400.

Oceanwide Expeditions.

Oceanwide Expeditions' Janssonius

Yet another new ship for Antarctica — Oceanwide Expeditions’ Janssonius. * Photo: Oceanwide Expeditions

Crystal Expedition Cruises‘ new 200-passenger Crystal Endeavor is set to begin its Antarctica season on Nov. 18, 2021, starting with a hotel overnight in Buenos Aires before travelers fly to Ushuaia to embark. The 11-night trip is priced starting at $13,449 per person, including the hotel and round-trip Buenos Aires-Ushuaia air.

Crystal Expedition Cruises.

Crystal Endeavor will launch next year

Crystal Endeavor is scheduled for its first Antarctica odyssey in November 2021. * Rendering: Crystal Expedition Cruises

German Spirit

Among the Hapag-Lloyd Cruises vessels down south will be the new Hanseatic Spirit, designated for German-speakers. With capacity for 230 passengers, the ship will carry no more than 199 in Antarctica. Hanseatic Spirit’s 20-night 2021 Christmas cruise departs Punta Arenas on Dec. 16 and ends at Ushuaia. Fares start at €16,141 per person, including a charter flight from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires.

Don’t speak German? Hanseatic Spirit’s sisters Hanseatic Nature and Hanseatic Inspiration will also be in Antarctica with on-board programming in both English and German.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Enjoy a raft of videos from Ernst Galutschek’s www.Shipvideos.net that highlight an expedition cruise he took in Dec 2019 aboard the new Hanseatic Nature to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica.

Hanseatic Spirit glass balcony

A spine-tingling view from Hanseatic Spirit’s glass balcony. * Photo: Hapag-Lloyd Cruises

Seabourn‘s first purpose-built expedition ship, Seabourn Venture, had been planned to sail the Antarctic but instead will debut with a new winter Norway program, as Quirky Cruise reported earlier. So Seabourn Quest, which has operated past Antarctica seasons, will take on the 2021/22 program.

Seabourn Expeditions.

These are just some of the ships charting the White Continent a year from now.

And Lindblad’s National Geographic Endurance? It’s among them, along with new 126-passenger sister, National Geographic Resolution, and the 148-passenger National Geographic Explorer.

Don’t miss great articles, reviews, news & tips about small-ship cruising, SUBSCRIBE to QuirkyCruise.com for updates and special offers!  

© 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.

Expedition Cruise Expert

Expedition Cruise Expert Steve Wellmeier — Part 2

Quirky’s Ted Scull continues his Q&A with polar expedition expert Steve Wellmeier, managing director for Poseidon Expeditions.

QuirkyCruise: Any personal relationships enter the picture, and, if so, how did they change your life?

Steve W: I was still single when I moved to New York City in 1988 at the age of 36. Worked for TravLtips, got passionate about cycling and long weekend rides up to Nyack or Cold Spring, French classes at the Alliance Francaise and hanging out with friends.

In the early ‘90s, I met Anne Bergeron, who was dating one of my cycling buddies and she, in fact, was one of the usual weekend cyclists. We started dating and got married in 1995. As you know, she was, like you, a graduate of Trinity College.

We remained in New York for a couple of years, and then I received a call from Paul Duynhouwer to rejoin him in St. Louis at INTRAV and Clipper, which by that time had merged into one company and became a publicly-traded firm. Anne was happy to escape from New York at the time, so we headed west.

Polar Expedition Cruise

Nantucket Clipper. * Photo: Ted Scull

As VP of Marketing, my first task was to bring together two rather disparate marketing cultures into one cohesive unit. Everything was done in-house: copywriting – now called “content creation” – graphics, purchasing, database manipulation, etc. Millions of direct mail brochures were sent to past travelers, prospects, travel agents, etc. Some people complain about direct mail, but it worked!

We stayed in St. Louis until 2000, when INTRAV was sold to Kuoni UK and we moved back to New York. Anne received a fantastic offer from the Guggenheim Museum, and I was happy to return as well, as we both had many friends.

I didn’t have a job lined up, but the travel industry was still relatively strong and I was able to line up some freelance consulting work, including with Far & Wide, which was a new “roll-up” that had purchased more than a dozen existing tour operations.

 RELATED: Read Part of 1 a QuirkyCruise Q&A with Expedition Cruise Expert Steve Wellmeier. 

QuirkyCruise: What then?

Steve W: The management team of Far & Wide were meeting on the morning of September 11, 2001 in Miami, and I was on the agenda as a possible marketing hire. Needless to say, the management team never got to my name that day. Just as well, as Far & Wide floundered just a few years later.

Anne’s job was secure, but I needed something to do and there wasn’t going to be anyone looking for a travel marketing guy for a while. So, I remember talking with you a few days after 9/11 and asking about your friend Marianne Ann’s role with FEMA, and if the agency might be looking for some temporary assistance with the World Trade Center Recovery Effort.

So, you connected me with her and I was taken on as a “local hire” in the public affairs group. We worked for several months in the cruise ship terminals on the Hudson River before moving to the old post office and then, finally, the Federal Building.

Initially, I was one of nearly 100 public affairs specialists actively working on the FEMA recovery effort, but by the time we moved to the Federal Building, probably late 2002 or early 2003, I was one of just a handful still working in public affairs. Shortly thereafter, I transferred to the Empire State Development Corporation, where I was a program manager for a grant program that distributed federal money to businesses that committed to staying in their premises south of Canal Street.

Well, my time at FEMA was an amazing experience, but that’s another whole story that would take some time to relay…

QuirkyCruise: Describe Elegant Cruises.

Steve W: In 2004, I heard that a small, family-owned cruise operator out in Port Washington was looking for some help with sales and marketing of their new Andrea, a vessel that was converted for expedition-style cruising from its original incarnation as Hurtigruten’s Harald Jarl.

She had been nicely outfitted, and joined Elegant’s other ship, the 60-passenger Monet, which operated week-long cruises in the Adriatic from Venice. The Monet was a successful, popular little ship that helped to establish the company.

The Monet ship

The Monet was the ideal size for cruising the Mediterranean’s small ports. * Photo: Elegant Cruises

I had some experience with polar expedition cruising, as I was brought back to Clipper just as they were purchasing and converting the Clipper Adventurer (now the Ocean Adventurer for Quark) in 1997. She had been the Russian research vessel Alla Tarasova. So, I was able to parlay some of that into helping Elegant market the Andrea.

Expedition Cruise Expert

The expedition ship Andrea was built from Hurtigruten’s Harald Jarl. * Photo: Elegant Cruises

The company was not without its challenges, as the renovation costs considerably surpassed the estimates, and getting on top of those initial capital costs was something the company had difficulties with. It all caught up with Elegant when the recession hit in 2009 and the company went out of business soon thereafter. But, the ship operated six successful seasons in Antarctica.

But, by that time (2008) I had been hired as the new executive director of IAATO, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators. Again, my polar experience paid off, although much of IAATO’s work related to developing best field practices, marine advice, assessment of the members’ field staffs, lobbying at Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings and so on.

I brought some organization and financial management to the association and learned a lot about the various member operations: traditional expedition operators like Lindblad, Quark, A&K as well as cruise-only operators (Holland America, Princess) and a number of yacht operators.

I held the position until 2013, when my wife decided to take a job in Dallas with the Dallas Art Museum. So, I resigned!

Expedition Cruise Expert

National Geographic Explorer in Svalbard. * Photo: Ted Scull

QuirkyCruise: What is IAATO, its importance and your job there and challenges?

Steve W: As the Antarctic segment of the cruise industry has grown, so has the importance of IAATO. It is a member organization that includes all of the Antarctic tour operators, both ship-based and land-based (yes, there are a few of these).

IAATO manages a vital database called the Ship Scheduler, which allows for a reasonable distribution of ships vis-à-vis landing sites on a daily basis. In other words, it provides a mechanism by which the expedition ships are not all trying to be at the same place at the same time, providing a more wilderness experience for the guests.

Expedition Cruise Expert

Preparing to go ashore in Antarctica * Photo: Ted Scull

IAATO also keeps extremely accurate statistics on visitation — numbers, nationalities, which landing sites are visited, activities, etc. — and this data is invaluable in its efforts to lobby effectively within the Antarctic Treaty System, an international treaty-based organization that is responsible for tourism management.

Further, IAATO also regularly publishes best practices for expedition ships, expedition leaders and guides, and guidelines for specific landing sites. All of this is designed to insure there is a minimal or even non-existent footprint from tourism in Antarctica.

Until recently, the challenges for IAATO were related to growth, with many more expedition ships expected to get into the marketplace in the next few years. The consequence of this, naturally, is more “boots on the ground” and the associated questions as to whether the increased visitors can continue to be managed in a way that results in no discernable impact — as has been the case historically with IAATO-managed tourism. IAATO has studied this issue extensively and planned accordingly, with multiple meetings, action plans and operational tactics, all designed to better manage the potential growth.

Of course, this has all now been put on the shelf with the advent and continuing saga of COVID-19. Currently, IAATO has marshalled a COVID-19 Task Force to study all of the ramifications of this issue as to how it might affect Antarctic tourism during the upcoming 2020-21 season; look for more on this as we move into the summer months.

Currently, I serve as the chair of the IAATO Finance Committee and the chair of the Bylaws Committee.

QuirkyCruise: What reactions did you have when you first arrived in Antarctica?

Steve W: Why, the absolute majesty of the place! I had the same feeling decades ago when I first drove into the Rocky Mountains. This was a similar breathtaking experience, but on a ship, with water lapping at the edges of the mountains.

Expedition Cruise Expert

The majesty of Antarctica, * Photo: Ted Scull

The “midnight sun” makes it all the more enticing; you become mesmerized standing on the deck as you approach a strait or an inlet or island off the coast and realize the mountains are 60 miles away. A dark smudge on the snow becomes a penguin colony as you come closer and then you see the non-stop activity of the penguins marching up and down the hills, building their nests, fighting with each other and so forth. Other-worldly.

RELATED: A Comparison of Antarctic vs Arctic Expeditions.  by Ted Scull.

QuirkyCruise: Do you think there are too many ships landing passengers in Antarctica or are they well spread out?

Steve W: I think I’ve addressed this earlier in talking about the IAATO Ship Scheduler. This database has now been in place about 15 years, and it works wonderfully well. IAATO is now working on a next-generation Ship Scheduler, which will work in real-time and which should have additional built-in features that will help ensure that landing sites that have traditionally been popular don’t become “overly” popular.

In other words, it will continue to do what it is supposed to do — spread out the ships and their guests to ensure that tourism has a very limited or even non-existent impact on the natural environment.

From a marketing perspective, of course, an increased number of ships creates more competition and more choice for the consumer. It draws more attention to the destination which — as a seller of travel experiences — is a good thing, as long as it can properly be managed on the ground.

QuirkyCruise: Many of the first ships to make expedition cruises tended to be built for other cruise markets, and others for entirely different purposes such as research, ice breaking, even spying. What do you think of them today vs all the new purpose-built expedition ships, and some of them super luxurious? Is a segment of expedition cruising getting too fancy and maybe losing the plot?

Steve W:  This is an interesting question, and the answer is complicated. Initially, there were a few purpose-built ships — Lindblad Explorer, World Discoverer, Frontier Spirit — that were enough for the relatively limited market and demand. As the market picked up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, helped along by a pretty good economy overall, tour operators where hankering to get into the business. So, with the fall of the Soviet Union, there was suddenly an inventory of usable ice-class tonnage that could be fitted out for polar tourism.

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

Expedition Cruise Ship

Ocean Endeavour is an example of a standard cruise ship used for Antarctic Expeditions. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

Other ships, too, were drawn into the market, many with lesser ice class capability, but still with the basic requirements to offer limited polar cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia, etc.

What changed things considerably were two events: the sinking of the Explorer in November 2007 and the recession and stock market crash that happened shortly thereafter. The sinking chased a lot of ships out of the market for various reasons, mostly having to do with new requirements that no heavy or intermediate fuel oil be burned in Antarctic waters; no open lifeboats; and a few other issues that got a lot of publicity and push back from Antarctic Treaty Parties.

The recession probably had a bigger impact, because suddenly money was very tight. A few companies went out of business, and no one wanted to invest in a ship for which no one was yet certain what the IMO requirements would be (as per the Polar Code, which was being revised during this time).

RELATED: Deciphering the Polar Code with expert Atle Ellefsen of the DNV. 

Expedition Cruise Expert

Ponant’s Bougainville is one of many expedition ships the line built during hard times. * Photo: Ponant

The only company that continued to build ships was Ponant. As the recession started to lift, the market improved, and new ships were announced. Let’s face it: there was a stretch of 5-7 years when no ships were being built and the Russian fleet was getting older and older, less desirable by the younger generation that wanted better accommodations, and weren’t likely to comply with the new Polar Code anyway.

The other factor was that traditional cruise and riverboat operators —Crystal, Seabourn, Silversea, Scenic, Viking — made a business decision that they didn’t want to NOT be in the game, losing their good, loyal customers to expedition operators like Lindblad, Quark, A&K and others. So, they all started making investments into the market as well.

Is the market getting too fancy? Well, some customers want that, especially if they are used to the level of service and treatment they get from Silversea, Seabourn, Scenic, Crystal, etc. Nothing wrong with being comfortable. But I have a hunch that that segment of the market may not hold up with the prices that they want.

There will continue to be demand in the middle ground, for good ice-class ships of a good size (less than 200) that are comfortable, fit and up-to-date, but not necessarily putting all of their resources into luxury features. Not everyone wants or needs it.

PS from TWS: …  or wants to pay for it or can’t pay for it.

RELATED: An Antarctica Expedition with Ponant & Abercrombie and Kent.  by John Roberts.

QuirkyCruise: Tell us about your current job, and how did it come about?

Steve W:  After leaving my position with IAATO in 2013, I started Navilogue, a consultancy to assist ship operators, particularly expedition ship operators, with market issues. This evolved into more and more time spent on my Poseidon Expeditions account, helping them apply for Operator status with IAATO, press releases, marketing strategies and other communications issues.

Once the company chartered the Sea Spirit in the spring of 2015, they wanted a larger US presence and I offered to open and manage a US office for Poseidon. It all worked out, and our sales growth has been steady since Day 1.

Expedition Cruise Expert

Poseidon Expeditions’ Sea Explorer. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

So, currently I manage the US office, Poseidon Expeditions USA. We essentially serve as a sales and reservations office for US travel partners and direct customers. I also get involved in a bit of marketing, public relations and other communications issues for the company.

QuirkyCruise: What are some of the best and/or most unusual itineraries?

Steve W: There are two that really stand out — our trip to the North Pole aboard the nuclear-powered 50 Years of Victory, and our Franz Josef Land expedition cruise aboard the Sea Spirit.

Expedition Cruise Expert

50 Years of Victory is a Russian icebreaker that can reach the North Pole. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Anyone can go to Franz Josef Land, but we have the unique ability to go there directly from Longyearbyen, which saves about two days of sea cruising overall. None of our competitors offer this advantage, although more and more of them have announced trips to Franz Josef Land in the past couple of years.

QuirkyCruise: You had a terrifying encounter during a business trip to South Africa?

Steve W: Yes, this happened in late April 2019, while I was just getting ready to attend the IAATO Annual Meeting, in downtown Cape Town. I was staying at a different hotel from the conference hotel, just a block away, and after some preliminary meetings I ran back to my hotel to drop off my laptop, change clothes, etc. before coming back to the preliminary icebreaker or cocktail party.

Expedition Cruise Expert

View from Table Mountain, Cape Town. * Photo: Ted Scull

The street wasn’t particularly empty or particularly dark — it was about 6:30 pm — but a guy walking in the opposite direction on the sidewalk suddenly veered toward me and attacked me with a knife. It was very quick and I didn’t know what hit me, but thought it was a blunt object at first. It struck me on the left side of my face, halfway between my ear and eye. I saw stars, but didn’t fall down, and I think he was probably counting on this; a robbery attempt. I yelled at him, and I think this threw him off his game, so he took off.

I was lucky to be just 40 yards or so from the front door of the conference hotel, so I managed to walk quickly over there. The guys at the front door, the bellmen, van drivers, security guards, etc., were certainly surprised and didn’t quite know what to do. I kept repeating to go get some of my friends at the cocktail party on the 18th floor, and to call an ambulance. Not sure that registered!

But a young American backpacker happened to be at the right place at the right time, and with his nurse’s training, was able to get me to sit down on the pavement and get the bleeding stopped. The ambulance never did show up, so some of my IAATO colleagues commandeered a hotel shuttle van and I was taken to Christiaan Barnard Hospital emergency room, which was fortunately close by.

As it turns out, the knife not only fractured my cheekbone, nicked my esophagus and fractured my topmost vertebrae, it also nicked my carotid artery and created an aneurysm. This was the big problem, and I had emergency surgery the next morning at the University of Cape Town Private Academic Hospital. I had a couple of miracle surgeons who fished a couple of stents up through the artery in my groin, and I recovered in ICU for a few days.

Some facial nerve damage has continued, but that’s diminished over time. While I got out of the hospital in about a week’s time, I had to stay another week before the physicians would allow me to fly home. I must add that I could never have gone through this without my wife Anne and her brother-in-law Butch flying over to tend to me and mind my recovery. They were both fantastic.

It’s helped to talk about this with practically anyone willing to listen, and I haven’t had any lingering nightmares or mental trauma. I was very lucky and had a great support network throughout.

Lessons learned: don’t walk alone on Cape Town streets; the more in your group the better, or take a hotel shuttle or taxi. Second lesson: make sure you have adequate emergency medical, evacuation and repatriation insurance — this paid for nearly all of my wife’s expenses, including business class airfare and all her hotel and meal costs, as well as mine.

QuirkyCruise: Thank you for sharing you story with our QuirkyCruise readers. You have had an amazing full working life and most of it associated with small ships.

Steve W: Thanks for this opportunity to talk about myself and my very enjoyable career in the small and expeditionary segment of the cruise industry. I feel very privileged to deal in a market that caters to people’s travel dreams and discretionary spending interests.

Ted and Steve Cruise Experts

Ted (left) & Steve (right) aboard a Celebrity press trip. * Photo: Steve Wellmeier

 RELATED: Read Part of 1 a QuirkyCruise Q&A with Steve Wellmeier. 

quirkycruise bird

 

Don’t miss great articles, reviews, news & tips about small-ship cruising, SUBSCRIBE to QuirkyCruise.com for updates and special offers!  

© 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.

The SeaDream ships in a travel bubble

Cruising Restarts in “Travel Bubbles” or “Travel Corridors”

By Anne Kalosh.

Cruising will restart in “travel bubbles” and, not surprisingly, on small ships.

It’s beginning this week as a few European river vessels are getting underway, on limited national runs, with plans to go further afield as things gradually open and if things go well. A few oceangoing ships are preparing to sail in Europe, as well.

All of these will be open to travelers from certain European countries only.

“Travel bubbles,” or “travel corridors,” are places where the virus is under control and countries mutually allow their residents to cross borders, without having to quarantine on arrival.

Nations that are further behind on the curve — the United States, for example — are probably not going to be in any travel bubbles soon. Not only is the virus still widespread stateside, the U.S. lacks a unified response and has low rates of testing and contact tracing.

That’s not the case in parts of Europe.

Europe is Opening

Starting June 15, residents of the Nordic countries — most of Sweden excepted — will be able to travel across their borders without having to quarantine on arrival.

This includes Norway, Denmark, Finland, the island of Åland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and the Swedish island of Gotland. The rest of Sweden is excluded for now since the infection rate there is still considered too high.

SeaDream’s Norwegian Coastal Cruises

SeaDream Yacht Club is taking advantage of the opening by deploying its pair of 112-passenger yachts on cruises along the Norwegian coast with a call at Denmark. Sailings start this month. SeaDream announced plans for nine voyages on one yacht in late May and demand was so strong that the company added a second yacht and increased departures to 21.

SeaDream twins in Norwegian travel bubble

SeaDream’s twin 112-passenger yachts are going to sail the Norwegian coast, with a stop in Denmark. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

The travelers are primarily Norwegians, but also Danes.

The destinations were hand-picked by SeaDream’s Norwegian founder and owner, Atle Brynestad.

SeaDream I is scheduled to sail past the Arctic Circle to the Lofoten Islands in 12-day voyages between Oslo and Tromsø. SeaDream II will sail seven-day cruises between Oslo and Bergen. Both itineraries include Ålesund, Flåm and Olden in Norway as well as Skagen, Denmark.

SeaDream crew

SeaDream crew are looking forward to welcoming guests back soon. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

Hurtigruten

The Norwegian company Hurtigruten, which operates coastal cruises and expedition voyages, is gradually resuming coastal sailings between Bergen and Kirkenes from June 16. Starting in Norwegian waters is a natural first step, according to Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam.

"Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" include Svalbard

Travelers from a Hurtigruten ship land in Svalbard’s Magdalenafjord. * Photo: Edda Falk for AECO

Svalbard expeditions will come.

Just days ago, the Norwegian government gave the green light for expedition cruises to Svalbard under rigorous safety conditions.

This resulted, in part, from work to provide nearly 100 pages of infection control guidelines for the expedition cruise industry carried out by several governmental institutions and local stakeholders in collaboration with the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO).

“We are thrilled that the Norwegian government and local stakeholders are demonstrating determination, willingness and cooperation to open for expedition cruises in Svalbard again, which is a vital contributor to local tourism economies,” AECO Executive Director Frigg Jørgensen said.

Svalbard included in a "Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors"

AECO Executive Director Frigg Jørgensen called Svalbard’s opening a start that gives hope to other expedition-cruise destinations. * Photo: AECO

The reopening will take place within existing national rules for entry so, from June 15, residents of Nordic countries (apart from most of Sweden) are allowed to travel there.

Very strict criteria will have to be met by expedition cruise operators during the first phase of reopening.

These include carrying only half of a vessel’s passenger capacity, increased numbers of medical staff and guest health certificates, among other requirements. Each operator will need to develop and apply individual plans based on the infection control industry guidelines, which then will be considered by the governor of Svalbard.

“It will take time before all cruise operations as we knew them can be resumed, but this cautious, phased and responsible beginning with expedition cruise tourism in Norway and Svalbard is a very important step for the expedition cruise industry and everyone affected by the halt in operations,” Jørgensen said. “This is a beginning that gives hope for the industry, and for other destinations.”

Svalbard's Bukta glacier

Plancius at Svalbard’s 14 Juli Bukta glacier. * Photo: AECO

European Rivers

Typically three-quarters of European river cruisers come from overseas, mainly the United States.

This year, it’s quite likely that only Europeans, from certain countries, will be able to sail the European waterways.

A-Rosa, a line that carries mainly Germans, is getting ready to go, thanks to Germany lifting its travel warning for 29 European countries and members of the Schengen area from June 15. The borders between these countries will reopen and quarantines will be abolished.

However, various country and region-specific regulations are still fluid.

"Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" enable A Rosa to begin operating again

A-Rosa may become the first European river cruise line to resume operations. * Photo: A-Rosa

On June 17, A-Rosa Alva is set to start plying Portugal’s Douro River, while other A-Rosa vessels will resume on the Rhine and Danube, followed by the resumption of cruises in France in early July.

The Douro River

Church with Portugal’s distinctive blue tiles azulejos along the Douro River. * Photo: Anne Kalosh

French Rivers & Coast

Strasbourg-based CroisiEurope plans to be back on the rivers of France — the Seine, Loire, Gironde, Garonne, Dordogne, Rhône, Saone and Rhine — starting mid-July.

"Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" to allow French river cruises to begin again

CroisiEurope plans to start sailing on the French rivers, including the Loire. * Photo: CroisiEurope

And, subsequently, CroisiEurope’s 128-passenger oceangoing ship, La Belle des Océans, is scheduled to embark on a new Corsica itinerary, from Nice. The ship is the former Silver Discoverer, acquired last year.

New "Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" enable CroisiEurope to start up again

CroisiEurope’s La Belle des Océans will operate a France-Corsica route. * Photo: CroisiEurope

Pending government approvals, the French line Ponant hopes to deploy six of its expedition vessels on five different domestic itineraries. The weeklong voyages would sail from Saint-Malo to the Ponant Islands that gave the company its name. And they would also sail from Le Havre along the Normandy coast, from Bordeaux on nature and gastronomy sailings, from Marseille along the Côte d’Azur and from Nice to Corsica.

New "Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" allow Ponant to start up cruises along French coast

Ponant’s Le Dumont D’Urville will sail a Normandy itinerary from Le Havre. * Photo: Fred Michel:Ponant

U.S. Rivers & Coasts

For Americans, there probably will be domestic travel options on small ships, like those belonging to American Cruise Lines, American Queen Steamboat Co. (AQSC), UnCruise Adventures, Blount Small Ship Adventures, Alaskan Dream Cruises and several of Lindblad Expeditions‘ vessels that are U.S.-registered.

RELATED: A QuirkyCruise Q&A with UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard.

As earlier detailed here, ships carrying under 250 people (passengers and crew) are not subject to the U.S. no-sail order. Nor, as U.S.-flag operators, do they require approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; instead, their health and sanitation programs fall under the Food and Drug Administration.

RELATED: US-Flag Small Ship Lines Likely First to Resume Cruise Operations.  by Anne Kalosh.

According to John Waggoner, founder and CEO of AQSC, his American Empress in the Pacific Northwest and American Duchess on the Mississippi have U.S. Coast Guard approval to sail and plans are being reviewed by the FDA. The challenge is all the different phases of opening of the various states, counties and ports.

Still, Waggoner said he’s optimistic the first departures could happen in July.

American Cruise Lines hopes to begin sailing even earlier, with a first American Song sailing planned for June 20 on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

American Song

American Song is targeted to resume sailing on the Columbia and Snake rivers June 20. * Photo: American Cruise Lines

Galápagos

There are a few other parts of the world that may be able to restart small-ship cruises in 2020. Emilio Freeman, a seasoned itinerary planner who has experience across a range of lines and is now with SeaDream, thinks nature destinations are going to be especially popular after COVID-19.

“The Galápagos are going to do very well,” he predicted. “The uncertainty is how you get there (airlift), but people will have a great experience out in nature with the wildlife. It’s going to be in demand. These types of destinations are where people will want to go.”

Silversea Cruises is hopeful its newly delivered Silver Origin, built for the Galápagos, could begin sailing there Aug. 22.

Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" should allow the Galapagos to open soon

Silversea’s newly delivered Silver Origin is scheduled to begin Galápagos service Aug. 22. * Photo: Silversea

A national park, the Galápagos are among the most controlled and remote cruise destinations, with islands spread across a vast expanse of the Pacific. Only a few places have human populations.

Several South American countries have become the new hot spot of the pandemic, and Ecuador is still closed. However, Fernando Delgado, vice president of Canodros/Silversea Cruises Ecuador, is confident air travel will be reinstated soon. The company has arranged adequate charter flights between the Ecuadorian mainland and the Galápagos, where travelers will embark Silver Origin. The issue is getting people to Ecuador.

It seems that people really want to go. According to Silversea, of all its itineraries, the Galápagos have had the fewest cancellations, followed by Antarctica.

RELATED: Galapagos Island Small-Ship Cruise Overview.

"Travel Bubbles" and "Travel Corridors" will allow Galapagos cruises to resume

Nature destinations like the Galápagos are expected to be in demand. Here blue-footed boobies. The challenge is airlift. * Photo: Silversea

Antarctica

The Antarctica season, which begins in October, is months off, and many expedition cruise lines hope it will be possible to operate.

As with the Galápagos, the uncertainty is airlift.

Ushuaia, at the tip of Argentina, is the main gateway to the White Continent, and most travelers would first fly to Buenos Aires. So far, Argentina has fared better than some neighbors in controlling the virus though its national quarantine has been extended through June 28. There’s no telling when regular commercial air service will resume.

This leaves a lot of uncertainty. Some lines may decide they don’t want to risk it, while others may be seeking alternative homeports.

The SeaDream ships in a travel bubble

The aft of the SeaDream I. * Photo: SeaDream Yacht Club

RELATED: Antarctica Cruising with Abercrombie & Kent and Ponant.  by John Roberts.

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ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Arctic vs Antarctic

By Ted Scull.

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

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

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

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

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

The Antarctic vs Arctic 

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

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

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

Overview: The Arctic

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

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

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

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

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Kayakers amongst the ice. * Photo: Quark Expeditions

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

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

Arctic Cruise map

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

Overview: Antarctica

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

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

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

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antarctic map

Antarctica. * Map: Lindblad Expeditions

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

 Arctic vs Antarctic — A Comparison

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

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Cruising the Arctic Region

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

Greenland

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

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

Jakobshavn Glacier

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

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

The Island of Umanaq

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

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

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

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

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

Baffin Bay

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

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

Milne Inlet

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

Beechey Island

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

Devon Island

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

Narsarsuaq

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

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

Davis Strait

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

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

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

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

Inuit Villages

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

Northern Lights

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

Svalbard

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Svalbard from the air. * Photo: Ted Scull

Polar Bears          

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

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

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

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iceland

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

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

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Akureyri Falls, Iceland. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Almannagia Rift, Iceland. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

RELATED:  Iceland Circumnavigation with Windstar.  by Sarah Greaves Gabbadon

The Faroes Islands

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

Shetland Islands

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

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

➣Cruising Antarctica

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

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

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

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

RELATED: Affordable Antarctica, Relatively Speaking.

The Falklands

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

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

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

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

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

Drake Passage

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

South Shetland Islands – First Landfall

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

Antarctic Peninsula Landings

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

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Elephant oozing rotundity. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

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

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

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

Deception Island

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

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

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

an ice flow

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

Faraday Research Station

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

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

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

Drake Passage Again

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

Pounding across the Drake Passage. * Photo: Ted Scull

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

ARCTIC VS ANTARCTICA

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

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

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

South Georgia Option

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

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

Arctic vs Antarctic: Who Goes There?

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

Adventure Canada

AdventureSmith Explorations

Abercrombie & Kent

Albatros Expeditions

Aurora Expeditions

Crystal Expedition Cruises  (Arctic only)

Grand Circle

Hapag-Lloyd

Hurtigruten

Lindblad Expeditions

Oceanwide

Overseas Adventure Travel

Polar Latitudes (Arctic only)

Ponant

Poseidon Expeditions

Quark Expeditions

Scenic

Seabourn Expeditions

Secret Atlas (Arctic only)

Silversea Expeditions

Vantage World Travel

Viking (beginning 2022)

Vantage World

Windstar (Arctic only)

Zegrahm Expeditioins

quirkycruise bird

 

 

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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. 

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

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Albatros Expeditions new Ocean Victory

Albatros Expeditions

Albatros Expeditions is a well-established Danish firm specializing in Nordic travel and more recently to many other parts of the world. Notice the Danish spelling of albatros with a single “s” — the bird is a globe-trotter with a big wingspan.

Expedition-style small ship cruising now includes the familiar nearby Arctic and far afield into the Southern Hemisphere — Antarctica, Falkland Islands and South Georgia. One ship has now become two — one traditional vessel and the other representing the latest in expedition design and technology. Hence itineraries have expanded in number and diversity.

In 2022, the line will add a second Infinity class expedition ship — Ocean Albatros. Both have zero speed stabilizers, hence rolling may be reduced by up to 80-85% when the ship is not underway.

Albatros Expeditions new Ocean Victory

186-passenger Ocean Victory. * Rendering: Albatros Expeditions

Ships, Year Delivered & Passengers

Ocean Victory delivered Dec. 2020, 93 cabins and 186 passengers. Highest Code 6, Highest Ice Class 1A, X-bow for cutting through the heavy seas.

Ocean Atlantic delivered 1985, rebuilt 2010, and last renovated 2016. 198 passengers. Ice classification 1B.

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ALBATROS EXPEDITIONS

Ocean Atlantic undertakes circumnavigations of Iceland. * Photo: Albatros Expeditions

Passenger Decks

Ocean Victory 6 decks, elevator to all; Ocean Atlantic 6 decks and lowest three connected by elevator.

Albatros Expeditions

Top deck provides a 360-degree viewing platform. * Photo: Albatros Expeditions

Passenger Profile

Europeans mostly; English-speaking passengers will have no problem. Some full Chinese charters.

Price

$$ & $$$ — the newest ship Ocean Victory commands higher rates. Compare if a careful shopper.

Itineraries

A sampling as so many variations. Note: Ocean Victory will sail in Antarctica for the winter season and be chartered to Victory Cruise Lines for summer Alaska cruises.

ARCTIC

14-day Western Greenland with many calls along Baffin Island as far as the entrance to the Northwest Passage and return; 13-day Northern Lights and Greenland; 12-day Iceland and both coasts of Greenland; 11-day Iceland and Svalbard; 8-day Jewels of the North Atlantic: Orkney, Shetland and the Faroes. 

ALBATROS EXPEDITIONS

Waterfall in Iceland seen on an circumnavigation. * Photo: Albatros Expeditions

ANTARCTICA

13-day Antarctic Peninsula and Polar Circle; 18-Day Antarctica, South Georgia and Falklands.

Albatros Expeditions

Gentoo penguin in Antarctica. * Photo: Albatros Expeditions

One-Off Itineraries

Solar Eclipse (Dec 4, 2021) aboard Ocean Atlantic departs Nov. 23, 2021 — 20 Days from Ushuaia to the Falklands, South Georgia, Antarctica, South Shetlands, and return to Ushuaia.  

Solar Eclipse (Dec 6, 2021) aboard Ocean Victory departs Nov 26, 2021 — 15 days from Ushuaia, South Georgia, Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetland Islands, and Ushuaia.  A 17-day positioning voyage April 23, 2021, from Valparaiso Chile, northward to Peru, Ecuador and Costa Rica, preceded by a Patagonia fjords cruise. 

Albatros Expeditions' Ocean Atlantic

The 198-passenger Ocean Atlantic. * Photo: Albatros Expeditions

Included Features

All excursions, photo workshop, tea and coffee, Welcome and Farewell Cocktails, and digital visual journal.

Why Go?  

Arctic: Wild, scenic landscapes, dramatic effects of a warming earth; fjords, some with glaciers, bird and sea life; polar bears; local indigenous people living in remote communities. 

Antarctic: Crystal clear days show off the fantastic colors and shapes of icebergs; birds seen nowhere else; flightless birds (penguins) of several types strutting about and diving into sea; a chance to hike on the ice shield; kayak in quiet coves, snowshoeing; visit to a research station. 

The Falklands: Several islands; charming rock hopper penguins; Port Stanley’s semi-isolated inhabitants; and South Georgia where more birds are seen than anywhere else, and you will learn about the Shackleton Expedition. 

Albatros Expeditions

Ocean Atlantic sails through a rugged Antarctic setting. * Photo: Albatros Expeditions

When to Go? 

Arctic — Northern Hemisphere summers

Antarctic — Southern Hemisphere summers 

Cabins

Ocean Victory: 93 staterooms, 68 s0-called private observation decks (balconies)  and 9 with French step-out balconies; single cabins. 

Ocean Atlantic: Cabins have windows or portholes, and 6 inside, 4 triples and 7 singles.

Albatros Expeditions

A cross section of the Ocean Atlantic showing locations cabins and public rooms. * Photo: Albatros Expeditions

Public Rooms

Ocean Victory: Main lounge bar, observation lounge, lecture room, and bird-watching platform on the highest deck.

Ocean Atlantic: Main lounge and a theater for lectures, viewing lounge high up on the ship with port and starboard verandas, outdoor café and bistro, and main restaurant on lowest deck forward.

Albatros Expeditions Ocean Victory lounge

The Shackleton Lecture lounge on new Ocean Victory. * Rendering: Albatros Expeditions

Dining

Ocean Victory: Main dining room, specialty restaurant, deck BBQ.

Ocean Atlantic: Main restaurant on lowest deck forward and a bistro.

Activities & Entertainment

Ocean Victory: Swimming pool with pool bar, 2 Jacuzzis, spa, gym, wellness area, aft activity deck. 

Ocean Atlantic: Pool and sauna, gym, wellness room.

Albatros Expeditions

The rear platform provides access to waterborne activities as well as excursions ashore. * Photo: Alba Expeditions

Special Notes

Two very different styles of ship but quality of expedition staff the same; consider your price point then decide. 

Along the Same Lines

There are many competing lines in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, including some covered in this article: Quirky-Sized Oceangoing New Ships of 2020 by Anne Kalosh.

Contact

USAAlbatros Expeditions US LTD, 4770 Biscayne Blvd., Miami FL 33137.

Head Office Albatros Expeditions A/S, Tondergade 16, Copenhagen V, Denmark. info@albatrosexpeditons.com

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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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Silver Cloud in Antarctica.

REVIEWER

Sue Bennett from New Zealand.

CRUISE LINE

Silversea Expeditions.

SHIP

Silver Cloud.

DESTINATION

Antarctica and Falkland Islands.

# OF NIGHTS

15.

DEPARTURE DATE & PORTS

December 2019 from Ushuaia, Argentina.

OVERALL RATING

5 out of 5 stars (5=excellent, 4=very good, 3=good, 2=poor, 1=terrible)

-Food Rating: 5

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 5

HAVE YOU BEEN ON A SMALL SHIP CRUISE BEFORE?

I’ve been on 1 small ship cruise.

REVIEW

Antarctica  is definitely a once in a lifetime trip. This was our first ever cruise, our expectations were well and truly exceeded. We were very happy that we chose the Silver Cloud. My husband had done a lot of research before booking — we wanted a trip that was going to give us the ultimate experience in Antarctica. The staff of Silver Cloud certainly achieved this. Everyone from the dining staff to our personal butler and room attendant were fantastic in looking after our every need. (My husband ordered 2 G&T’s one night to our suite, not only did we get our Gins but the whole bottle was delivered).

But I have to say the expedition staff were the people who really made this trip for us. Being able to get out on the Zodiacs twice a day (this was one of the main reasons we chose Silverseas), was fantastic. But their jobs didn’t end here, the expedition team gave lectures and each day we had a recap of the days activities. The team would also have lunch and dinners with the guests. The photo lab on the boat was a great extra to be able to use a computer to upload, etc photos. The entertainment team had plenty of activities arranged for the younger guests, from study sessions to team trivia (even adults were known to join in the trivia). The solo travelers were also looked after with get-togethers. At the end of the trip all guests received a thumb drive with the story and photos of the trip. We just loved our trip and are already looking froward to the next one.

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RELATED:  Silversea Orders Expedition Vessels

RELATED: Creature Comforts aboard the Silver Cloud in Antarctica

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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

TALK TO US: Tell us all about your latest small-ship cruise!

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMcN7JBSh6c

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.

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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

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Poseidon Expeditions

Poseidon Expeditions

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

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

The Sea Spirit

The Sea Spirit. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

COVID-19 UPDATE

Poseidon Expeditions is scheduled to resume sailing in May 2021.

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

FLEET

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

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

Passenger Profile

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

Price

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

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

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

Itineraries

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

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

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

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

camping in Antarctica

Camping, can you imagine! * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sample Itinerary

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

Sea Spirit in Antarctica.* Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sea Spirit in Antarctica.* Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Why Go?

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

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

When to Go?

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

Poseidon Expeditions

50 YEARS OF VICTORY. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

Sustainability Initiatives

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

Activities & Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

SHIPS

Sea Spirit

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

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

outdoor bistro

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

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

Club Lounge

The Club Lounge. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

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

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

Sea Spirit cabin

Sea Spirit twin cabin. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

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

Embarking into Zodiacs. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions.

Embarking into Zodiacs. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions.

50 Years of Victory

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

indoor swimming pool

The indoor swimming pool. * Photo: Poseidon Expeditions

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

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

Poseidon Expeditions bar

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

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

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

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

50 Years of Victory

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

Special Notes

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

Poseidon Expeditions; www.poseidonexpeditions.com

London, UK — sales@poseidonexpeditions.com; +44 203 369 0020

US — SalesUSA@poseidonexpeditions.com; +1 (347) 801-2610

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

TWS

 

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