We chose Polar Pioneer mostly because it was a small ship with maximum 54 passengers as well as the fact that it was able to go to many places that the bigger ships could not & that they would change the route depending on weather, ... Read More
We chose Polar Pioneer mostly because it was a small ship with maximum 54 passengers as well as the fact that it was able to go to many places that the bigger ships could not & that they would change the route depending on weather, wildlife sightings etc. …..this turned out to be an excellent choice!!
Being a smaller ship the cabins & communal areas were basic but very comfortable. We chose a twin window cabin with private bathroom (there were also share bathroom options), the bathroom was fine & the beds were comfortable with an area underneath to store our suitcases. There were 2 dining areas, a lecture room & a bar where we met at the end of each day to recap our day’s activities & plan for the following day. I would have liked larger viewing windows in these areas (as we had on ms Expedition in the Antarctic) but as it turned out my favourite place was on the bow – because it was here I could watch as the ship cruise through the ice & when we nosed into the pack ice this is where the Polar bears came up to investigate us & I felt so close that I could hear them breathing as I stood mesmerized by the sparkle of their translucent fur in the sunlight (up until then I had always thought Polar bears fur was just white).
Food was buffet breakfast each morning with the usual cereals, yogurt, fruit, pastries, bacon, eggs, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans & breakfast sausages. Lunch & Dinner were set meals that were put up in the morning so that if we wanted something different we could opt for the vegetarian meal. Lunch was usually soup followed by hot meal such as beef stroganoff, chicken curry, fish & chips, wraps, ham & cheese toasties. Dinner was a salad followed by a hot meal such as lamb shanks, salmon, local fish, meat & vegetables, then dessert such as apple crumble & ice cream, pudding etc. There was also coffee, tea, hot chocolate & biscuits available 24 hrs a day. One night we had a BBQ on the deck with complimentary soft drink, beer & gluhwein (hot mulled wine) & dancing afterwards which was a lot of fun,
The Expedition Team:
The expedition team were excellent & very knowledgeable on the area as most had been there many times. They were very approachable & there were many opportunities to chat with them & to ask questions. The seven main team members were made up of an expedition leader, 3 biologists – one who’s expertise was marine animals, one land animals & the other birds (one of the biologists was also a previous expedition leader), as well as 3 others who had experience in just about everything. We also enjoyed the open bridge policy and spent time up there with the crew on the look-out for wildlife.
The Expedition, Itinerary & Wildlife:
Our 10 day expedition was basically to circumnavigate the main Svalbard island of Spitsbergen in a clockwise direction & we were informed from the start that this itinerary was open to change depending on weather, ice, wildlife opportunities etc. Our first night aboard we were informed that due to a low pressure area building up on the west coast it had been decided by the expedition leader in conjunction with the captain that we would now go in an anti-clockwise direction & this turned out to be a very good decision. We also managed to go much further north around into the ice pack than expected (81o 37.6’ N) & this is where we had the most ‘up close & personal’ experiences with Polar bears as they came to investigate our ship.
We saw a total of 23 polar bears, some up very close to the ship or zodiac & some that were further away. We saw bears feeding, bears with cubs, bears on shore and bears on ice & at times felt that we were part of a David Attenborough documentary especially as we watched a mother & cub run then swim to escape an aggressive male. We walked up to walruses hauled out on the beach, saw them sunning on rocks & swimming near our zodiacs (luckily not too close – as one of the kayakers had to use his paddle to dissuade one walrus from eating his kayak). There were numerous puffins, skuas, terns, gulls, geese, & other Arctic birds, while the bird cliffs of Alkefjellet were an amazing sight, sound & smell with over 100,000 pairs of breeding guillemots. We also saw Arctic foxes lying in wait for the possibility of an egg, chick or injured bird falling from the ledges. We caught glimpses of a blue whale & fin whale but they were more in the distance & saw a few seals, but these seemed nowhere as prolific as Antarctica.
There were usually two excursions a day, a landing and a zodiac cruise. As we had about a dozen kayakers this meant that each time there were 5 zodiacs each with only 8 pax. so disembarkation was quick & easy. Landings were usually split into long or short hikes. The threat of polar bears meant that at all times you need to be part of a group with an expedition team member at the front & at the back with a gun as well as at strategic spots to keep a look-out.
In summary we would highly recommend this ship for those interested in learning about the history & enjoying the scenery & wildlife of Spitsbergen but remember the Polar Pioneer is definitely an expedition ship not a luxury cruise liner
G&G Read Less