Editor's note: After financial defaults by its Russian owners, Lyubov Orlova was sold for scrap, then lost at sea when a towing line broke and the ship drifted away. At press time, the ship has not been located and many believe it may have sunk somewhere in the North Atlantic.
Do polar bears on ice flows and musk oxen on the tundra hold more appeal than room service and casinos? Do you choose a cruise based on its itinerary to a remote region, rather than the comforts of the ship? Are blue jeans and fleece jackets the fanciest clothes you ever hope to wear onboard? If so, then an expedition to the Arctic onboard Cruise North's Lyubov Orlova may be for you.
Chartered (but not owned) by Cruise North from July to September, Lyubov Orlova sails each summer on expeditions to the Canadian Arctic. Despite the explosion in expedition cruising over the last 10 years, this region still remains relatively untraveled, and Cruise North provides one of the only options for visiting the Hudson Bay, Baffin Island and the Northwest Passage.
As you'd expect, the focus of the trip is the wildlife, scenery and culture of the area, and you'll generally make one or two landings onshore each day. You might find massive musk oxen -- amusing-looking creatures best described as giant blankets wearing dour expressions. From the ship, you might cruise past blubbery walruses sleeping on nearby ice flows or smoothly slipping in and out of the water.
Because Cruise North is Inuit-owned, you'll also find a strong emphasis on the local culture. Stops at native villages occur on just about every trip, and you'll find Inuit people onboard as part of the ship's crew and natural history staff.
The company will be the first to tell you, however, that the ice-strengthened ship, built in 1976 in Yugoslavia, is a far cry from luxury. In many ways, the company doesn't want a fancier ship. The owners are more interested in attracting passengers who relish the informal and almost scrappy ambiance -- those who don't concern themselves with the relatively mediocre food, simple cabins and basic facilities. In the end, the warm, friendly atmosphere and comparatively modest pricing for expedition trips make up for many of the shortcomings of the ship itself.
Founded in 2005, the young company is still finding its footing. The quality of its presentations and the onboard organization can still be improved, and it doesn't reach the levels of the more experienced, more expensive operators. Despite some shortcomings, though, Cruise North provides a remarkable, up-close experience with a still-remote and untouched part of the world -- one that most other cruisers don't even know can be reached.