(10:18 a.m. EDT) --- Hapag-Lloyd’s newest ship, the 230-passenger Hanseatic Inspiration, set off on its maiden voyage from Antwerp, Belgium this week. Before the ship took off for its 15-day journey to Spain, we got to spend some time aboard to see what makes this luxury expedition ship stand out.
Hanseatic Inspiration is is the second of the German cruise line Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ three new expedition ships. Hanseatic Nature launched earlier this year and Hanseatic Spirit will debut in 2021. Unlike its sister ships, Hanseatic Inspiration is meant for an international market and cruises will be bilingual, with both German and English spoken. Menus and other materials are also printed in both languages.
The ship is built for polar voyages in the Arctic and Antarctica, and will sail to other destinations such as the Great Lakes and the Amazon. Aptly enough, Hapag-Lloyd chose Laura Dekker, the youngest person ever to sail around the world alone, as the ship’s godmother.
If you didn’t know better, you’d never guess at first glance that you’re on an expedition ship, that’s how cutting-edge and stylish Inspiration is inside. High-tech elements are everywhere, from the enormous LED video walls at reception, which displays scenery from places the ship will go, such as icebergs and sandy beaches, to the extendable glass balconies on the Pool Deck, affording you the chance to see straight down into the water if you are brave enough to step out on it.
There’s another LED wall and even an LED ceiling in the HanseAtrium, which is the ship’s main public space where lectures, daily presentations and shore excursion preparations occur. Here you might see birds flying by or a whale swimming through the water. Nonsmokers will rejoice to learn that starting in October 2020, the ship will entirely ban smoking onboard.
The ship has 120 cabins, ranging from the 226-square-foot Panoramic or French balcony cabins, up to the 764-square-foot Grand Suite. More than half the cabins offered are balcony cabins, numbering 63. While the sizes may vary, all cabins have all sorts of bells and whistles, from a heated wall in the bathroom to dry your wet clothes to cool customizable lighting on the walls. There’s a coffee machine and complimentary mini-bar stocked with juices, water and sodas replenished daily. Cleverly designed drawers and cabinets offer a plethora of storage space.
Also in every cabin, guests will find Swarovski Optik binoculars and Nordic walking poles to use while on the cruise, saving you the hassle of packing them yourself. As is the trend these days, rather than stocking the bathroom with small disposable bottles of shampoo, conditioner and lotions, large bottles are used and made of environmentally-friendly materials.
A core attraction of most expedition cruises is a focus on enrichment and education. For those looking to learn, the high-tech Ocean Academy, open 24 hours a day, features an enormous interactive media wall, plus several personal media centers, where you can lose yourself for hours in any number of topics. You can choose to learn all about the places you’ll visit or take a deep dive into the lives of explorers, scientists and others who have made an impact in the world. There are also microscope stations and samples of everything from polar bear hair to a fly in amber to study. Expert lecturers are on board to enhance your experience and describe everything you’re seeing.
On our brief time aboard, we enjoyed a meal in each of the ship’s three restaurants: the main dining room, the Lido buffet and the specialty dining venue called Nikkei, serving Japanese-South American fusion cuisine.
The Lido is most casual of the three, with indoor and outdoor seating and a buffet with a large variety of dishes, as well as table service for beverage and a few menu items. At breakfast, everything you could want is available, from eggs in a number of ways to fruits to cheeses and other morning favorites. At lunch, there was a tempting salad bar and it was impossible to resist the made-to-order pasta carbonara.
At Nikkei, which is only open for dinner, we opted for the Chef’s Recommendation, a six-course tasting menu which had some hits and misses. Dishes like the Kamo Nabe, duck with cabbage, corn, chili, mango and soy, were crowd-pleasers, while items like the catfish with nut butter, nori and cress were less so. Some dishes, such as the sweet potato tempura with dulce de leche crème and lime sorbet for dessert, were clever and surprisingly good.
In the main dining room, where the menu will change daily so cruisers won’t get bored, we enjoyed a generously-sized caviar and potato starter, veal tenderloin and crème brulee, with a lovely lemon and champagne intermezzo in between courses at dinner. Other options included beef carpaccio, lobster with asparagus and Champagne risotto. The unusual décor in the room, with a ceiling meant to evoke a canopy of trees, is comfortable spot to dine.
One thing to note is that alcohol is not included on your cruise fare on Hapag-Lloyd, which is unusual for a high-end expedition ship (though prices are quite reasonable). All gratuities are included.
Besides the swimming pool and whirlpool located on the Pool Deck, there’s also a gorgeous spa with a sauna with a stunning floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the water, a treatment room and salon. Only organic products are used for all treatments. A very generously-sized gym sports treadmills and other fitness equipment and even has a yoga studio where you can take classes. We especially liked the large indoor changing room on the marina deck, where guests can don their boots or other equipment and store their gear in open lockers when they’re not in use. Next to the HanseAtrium, there’s a small shop in case you forget anything or want to buy gear. All guests get one free hour of Wi-Fi a day, with the option to purchase more time if needed. And when there is something exciting to see outside, the outdoor Inspiration Walk, located on the bow of the ship on Deck 6 will be the place to be.
The ship features the highest ice-class rating for a passenger ship, so it can explore the icy regions of the Arctic and Antarctic with ease. When it cruises to Antarctica or circumnavigates Spitsbergen, it will carry 199 passengers in compliance with local regulations. It will also sail the Great Lakes and along the Amazon River. The ship has 19 Zodiacs (two of which are battery-powered) for passengers to head out on for adventures. Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are also on board for guests’ use.
Another nifty feature of the ship is its retractable bridge wings. When closed, this innovation allows the ship to fit into the locks in the Great Lakes. Other itineraries include the Saint Lawrence River and Nova Scotia, the Panama Canal, the Chilean Fjords, and voyages in Asia and New Zealand.