Lyubov Orlova Entertainment
The main forms of entertainment on a Cruise North expedition are the landings, wildlife sightings and lectures given by the expedition staff. Practicing the art of conversation and meeting new people also become important parts of the days onboard.
For those who require rigid schedules, be warned that flexibility is required -- the itinerary is not set in stone, and weather and ice conditions often dictate where you can and can't visit. Ice can be an especially tricky factor on some itineraries. In 2006, the ship had to be broken free of ice by an ice breaker, and a few weeks before I sailed, a Zodiac full of guests became stuck in the ice for several hours! However, it was certainly not a dangerous situation for the passengers and was viewed as simply part of the excitement of being on an expedition. In addition, wildlife sightings can often interrupt or postpone lectures -- which is just fine, since everyone onboard wants it that way.
Passengers quickly become comfortable using the ship's nimble and sturdy Zodiacs to search for wildlife. The boats are used not only to shuttle everyone back and forth to land, but also for hour-long polar-bear and sea-bird searches.
Landings may include visits to uninhabited islands to look for specific animals -- or just to enjoy the scenery. It is important to note that, due to the danger of polar bear attacks, groups ashore are asked to stick close together, with armed guides watching ahead and behind. While these precautions do restrict your ability to walk freely and explore on your own, they are necessary given the region in which you are traveling, and are standard practices for every operator in the Arctic.
Cruise North is very concerned with giving back to the regions in which they travel, and that includes helping out the local Inuit villages. A real distinguishing mark for the company is the large number of Inuit people you'll find onboard, whether as part of the natural history staff or the unique trainee program that runs in the first half of the season. Here, youth from the local villages are selected to work onboard in a wide variety of roles, ranging from driving Zodiacs and giving presentations on their culture to assisting with the administrative aspects of running a ship. Most passengers learn a tremendous amount just by sitting down and chatting with the trainees during dinner or when walking ashore. In addition, a few stops are made in local Inuit communities, where passengers can enjoy cultural performances by the residents, shop for crafts, take a look around the villages and chat with community elders.
Of course, as with every expedition company, several lectures are given each day on the natural history of the region. Topics might range from the ecology of the poles and a look at the lives of thick-billed murres to presentations on the Inuit language. While the lectures were all well-attended on my trip, the quality of the talks varied significantly, and some presenters had accents that were hard to understand.
Occasionally, homegrown evening entertainment -- like Arctic quiz games or "culture shows," in which the Inuit staff wear native attire and play native games -- is provided in the bar.
Lyubov Orlova Public Rooms
Public rooms include one bar and an adjoining library, plus a main lounge that functions as a lecture hall. All public rooms are situated on the same deck, which makes getting around the little ship very easy. Unfortunately, all rooms on this deck look out onto an interior promenade through relatively small windows, so there are no great inside spaces to sit and watch the passing scenery.
The bar is decorated with fake wood paneling and dark green and white striped couches that wouldn't seem out of place in a 1970's sailor bar in Murmansk. The library features a selection of books on the polar regions; it's a popular spot for passengers to gather and download photos onto their computers. E-mail, but not Internet, is available from a public shipboard account that costs approximately $5 for each half-page e-mail.
All of the onboard lectures are given in the ship's forward lounge, a cramped and dark room. In fact, calling it a lounge is a bit of a stretch -- it's used only for lectures because the uncomfortable, raised banquette running the perimeter of the room makes sitting there for an extended period of time unappealing. Also, the view outside is limited; the room's small windows look out onto a steel bulwark. When the ship is full, the lounge is extremely crowded, and sightlines for the presentations are not always good.
As is common on expedition ships, the bridge is open to passengers. The Russian officers, however, speak little English and mostly sit in the corner of the bridge, smoking and chatting with their friends. There was little effort made on their part to engage passengers, although when approached, officers would often make an effort to explain some of the equipment or point out the ship's current location on a chart.
There is no self-service laundry.
Lyubov Orlova Spa & Fitness
Fitness facilities are minimal, and the tiny gym contains only two stationary bikes and one stair-climber.
A small seawater dunk pool can be filled if the weather is right, although this is a rare event. The pool is mostly used for novelty "polar plunges," rather than for any real swimming.
The ship's outside areas, including the not-quite-pristine green-painted decks and plastic deck chairs, seem more akin to a cargo ship than a cruise ship. Despite their somewhat gritty appearance, the open decks do offer an abundance of space, including access all the way to the bow. For an expedition ship, this is a key feature, as a midnight polar-bear sighting might draw everyone and his or her camera to the decks at the same time.
Seven single-person kayaks are available and usually are used once per trip. Previous experience is required, and the cost is $30 an hour. If the conditions are right, kayaking in the Arctic can be a marvelous experience. When I went, we watched in silence for several minutes as a herd of reindeer fed, only a few hundred feet away. Only the five of us out kayaking that day experienced this wonderful sight.