By Ben Lyons, Cruise Critic Contributor
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.
Lyubov Orlova Fellow Passengers
Passengers tend to be older, but still fit and curious, with an average age around 55. They appreciate the informal atmosphere and enjoy getting to meet others in a small-ship environment. Approximately 60 percent come from Canada, with the remaining passengers split between the U.S., Germany, the U.K. and France. One or two kids are usually on each trip.
We're glad to see that Cruise North is one of the few companies that will arrange for single travelers to share a double-occupancy cabin. If the company can't find another solo passenger willing to share, you can still get the double cabin at the normal double-occupancy rate and avoid the single surcharge that is anywhere from 125 to 175 percent of the regular price, depending on cabin category.
It is important to note that there is no elevator onboard, and passengers have to navigate often-tricky transfers on the gangway between the ship and the Zodiacs. Passengers with disabilities will not do well onboard.
Lyubov Orlova Dress Code
Dress onboard is unmistakably casual, and there is never a need to dress up. The emphasis is on practical clothing, given the climate in which the ship travels. You should bring several layers of clothing for each day; waterproof pants and boots are necessary for the wet landings from Zodiacs, when you must wade briefly into the surf to get to shore. While some travelers may put on a fresh shirt and slacks for dinner, don't be surprised at all to see most people wearing blue jeans and fleece jackets at mealtimes.
Despite the Arctic label, several of the trips are actually operated below the Arctic Circle and are surprisingly temperate. Temperatures in the 50's are not uncommon, and on a sunny day, you'll be shedding several layers, while soaking up all the Vitamin D you'll need for the year.
Lyubov Orlova Gratuity
Gratuities are recommended at $10 per person, per day.
Photos appear courtesy of Ben Lyons. Cabin photo appears courtesy of Cruise North.
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Cruise North is a very special Inuit-owned company that is invested in protecting the past and also preparing for the North’s future. The Inuit of Northern ...continue