Day or night, Mother Nature takes center stage, no matter if you're watching icebergs or whales from the ship or hiking onshore. For shore landings on Antarctica, passengers are briefed beforehand about the area's history and what to expect; stepping onshore, they are immediately given suggestions as to what path to take to see, for instance, a seal resting on a beach, or where to get the fabulous view of icebergs. But after that, passengers are mostly left to wander as they see fit. For instance, four days spent along the Antarctic Peninsula offered a single guided hike, which was a physically demanding trek of about three miles that included steep, snowy, slopes.
But on nearly every shore visit to other Fram destinations, including longer Antarctic trips that call on the Falklands and South Shetland Islands, there typically is a guided (or more likely self-guided using the map that's supplied) walk through town and free entrance to museums. Optional excursions in Greenland include a small boat trip to see enormous icebergs up close, sea kayaking or a spectacular helicopter flight over the polar icecap.
The prime extra option on Antarctic voyages is the chance to spend the night onshore, sleeping in two-person tents. Fram is limited to putting only 10 passengers and one expedition-crew escort on shore overnight, so passengers willing to pay the extra $530 to sleep on the continent put their names into a drawing.
During cruising time, expedition crewmembers give outstanding lectures based on their academic specialties: local flora, fauna, history and culture. (On Antarctic trips, there is no native culture to discuss, so a topic such as "who owns Antarctica?" is substituted.) Lectures are given in English and at least one other language, but in separate rooms, so that passengers don't have to sit through endless translations. P.A. announcements are also made in English, followed by a European language version. Beyond the lectures, the only entertainment is likely to be a kitschy talent show by the Filipino crew and a surprisingly lively auction of ship items particular to your cruise, such as an ensign signed by all expedition crewmembers.
Once dinner is finished, passengers head up to the Deck 7 observation lounge, which has the ship's only bar, for cocktails and conversation or head to the four-seat tables on Deck 4 to work jigsaw puzzles, play board games and cards, or linger over a cup of coffee or tea. Some head to their cabins to read or watch TV, which loops a few theatrical films (in English, Spanish and occasionally other languages), the BBC or CNN. Because most landings usually begin by 9:30 a.m., passengers may prefer to turn in early to bed.
Fram Public Rooms
The Qilak (meaning "sky") observation lounge on Deck 7 is an exceptionally well-designed space, surrounded on three sides by floor-to-ceiling windows that slant outward and are topped off with a bit of glass ceiling. The front-row swivel seats are a favorite spot to stay warm while watching the ship slowly cruise past massive icebergs at what seems an impossibly close range. Each side of the lounge features a stationary, 85-power spotting scope. The lounge has a restful blue and beige color scheme and is filled with various chairs, tables and bench-type seats. It is the location of the ship's one fully stocked bar.
The Nunami (meaning "on land") lobby, located next to the reception desk on Deck 4 and seating perhaps 25 on couches and chairs, is a popular spot for relaxing, chatting and looking out the large windows. The real attraction there is the faux fireplace -- a large flat-screen TV looping a video of a blazing fire. The funny thing is that it actually feels warm. Talk about the power of suggestion!
Directly behind this digital fire is the Internet cafe. There are six computer stations with free Internet, or connections may be purchased for personal laptops and tablets in various time increments. We never had to wait to get onto one of the ship's computers. The Internet connection was usually strong, but as with most shipboard connections via satellite, it could be maddeningly slow or simply not available. Similarly, there is no standard cell phone service, unless a passenger is using the European SMS-type phone service. That worked even when the ship's satellite connection was not online.
Fram, above all, is an expedition ship. Therefore, there are two lecture rooms just past the Internet cafe. Each accommodates about 100, seated in ordinary stacking chairs as opposed to theater seats.
A small gift shop stocked mainly with logo merchandise and a few toiletries is also on Deck 4 behind reception.
There is no self-service laundry, but there is next-day valet service at prices consistent with large cruise ships.
Fram Spa & Fitness
The Sun Deck, on Deck 7, is great for relaxing, though on Antarctic trips, the temperature is often too cold to make this a longtime resting point. Don't expect fancy loungers; seating is limited to blue plastic folding chairs.
You'll get hours of exercise walking and hiking ashore. In fact, your two feet are the only means of getting around in the Arctic and Antarctica. That said, Fram has a small but attractive wood-floored gym on Deck 6. It's open from 7 a.m. until midnight and is equipped with weights and seven machines that include rowers and stationary bikes.
Step through the gym's glass doors, and you'll find two outdoor whirlpools. We often had the tub ourselves, as not many passengers seemed to use them.
From the gym, stairs lead up one deck to separate men's and women's saunas, locker rooms and showers. The saunas are huge and have a row of portholes facing forward so you don't have to miss the scenery. We actually watched a glacier one evening from inside the sauna. Be aware that many Europeans use the saunas in the nude.