Shore excursions are weather-dependent. They usually involve motoring by Zodiac to shore, and on select voyages, taking to the air in a helicopter over uncrossable terrain to see a specific sight, such as the Emperor penguin colony we visited.
Zodiacs may go out both in the morning and afternoon, depending on a particular landing site as well as changing weather -- wind and rough seas can cancel Zodiac excursions. Depending on the voyage, hiking, snowshoeing, sea kayaking, mountaineering, sea diving and overnight camping might be offered.
Zodiacs take cruisers to Antarctic islands where penguins hop and skid across snow and elephant seals heave themselves onto the beach. Historic research stations are also visited. In the Arctic, Zodiacs motor to landings on the spectacular cliffs of Alkefjellet where cruisers can view reindeer, walruses, bearded and ringed seals and polar bears.
Zodiacs are not difficult to board; expedition staff show you how. But people with mobility challenges such as bad knees are likely to find the gangplank steep.
There's lots of wildlife to see on an expedition cruise with Ortelius, regardless of whether you're in the Antarctic or the Arctic.
Penguins of seven species can be seen on Antarctic itineraries. For instance, the Falkland Islands are home to Magellanic, rockhopper and gentoo penguins. And, the rarely reached Snow Hill Island in Antarctica's Weddell Sea is home to the only Emperor colony reachable by ship. Sea birds often follow ships in the Drake Passage en route to Antarctica; several species of albatross you might see include the great albatross, with its 12-foot wingspan; several species of petrel will also be around.
In Antarctic waters, passengers can also spot humpback, minke, sperm and blue whales and sometimes, although rare, the massive fin whale. Seals including crabeaters, leopard and Weddell seals can also be spotted. Also in the Antarctic, little chinstrap penguins scurry around the South Shetland Islands, where elephant seals may wallow up from the sea. Macaroni penguins might also be spotted here.
Arctic wildlife ranges from polar bears to birds of every feather, including Arctic tern and shearwater petrels. The island of Spitsbergen, in particular, is a wildlife extravaganza.
Day and Evening Entertainment
On most expedition ships, the nature you're there to see is all the entertainment you'll get. Nature always puts on a great show in the Arctic or Antarctic.
For those who need something else, in-room TVs show pre-programmed movies; a few topical shows such as BBC's "Our Frozen Planet" may also be shown in the lounge.
Lectures and slideshows by expedition staff (all of whom are self-taught, not renowned experts as sometimes offered on other expedition cruise companies) cover topics such as sea birds, sea ice, penguins, polar bears, the history of polar exploration and other subjects the staffers have chosen to research. Presentations are good and the staff's passion is usually contagious.
There's only one bar/lounge on Ortelius. Outfitted with red padded booths and other seating, it's comfortable and draws passengers both for socializing and reading or writing. A free, 24/7 coffee service brews up tasty cappuccinos and lattes plus regular coffee; there's tea as well.
The bar draws a 5 o'clock crowd; mixed drinks are excellent -- mojitos with fresh mint and margaritas with fresh lime are among the options. Heineken and a few other imported beers are served as well as good wines from Europe and South America. The convivial atmosphere rolls on into night.
Other than cabins and the deck, there is no other place to hang out except a lecture hall, which earned the nickname, "the church," thanks to its wooden pew-like benches with high wooden backs, which, we learned the hard way are not conducive to reading or conversation.
Because Ortelius has a heliport at the ship's aft, the ordinarily oval-shaped walking path you'll find on most ships is disrupted and entry to the heliport is not allowed. That leaves a very short walk around the remaining deck space. Some try power walking, but it's short and unsatisfying.
The ship's Reception Desk is on Deck 4. Although only intermittently staffed, reception is the best place to find out what's happening that day if you missed an announcement on the PA or didn't attend the all-ship meeting describing upcoming weather issues and shore landings. Planned landings in Polar Regions often change from one day to the next, but the reception desk always has tabs on the latest.
Internet service can be purchased onboard but it is extremely limited. Deleting a single email can take 20 seconds, and many passengers find that a 40 euro internet pass lasts only 10 minutes. The internet arrives via a satellite signal, which is often weak and shared by too many at once.
There is a ship doctor aboard but the infirmary is limited and does not have an operating room. All passengers are required to have medical evacuation policies and, when booking the cruise, must fill out a long medical history form reporting every treated condition. Passengers are expected to report any medical issues that could be life-threatening and are reminded to consider the impact on fellow passengers should a potential medical emergency force the sip to turn around.
There are no spa or fitness facilities onboard Ortelius.
While Oceanwide Expeditions doesn't restrict cruisers of any age, the message the company sends to parents is clear -- taking your child on one of their expedition cruises could be putting your child at risk. Polar sailings, especially in Antarctica, can position a ship days away from any other ship or spot on land that a medical evacuation flight could reach. There is no specific entertainment for children onboard either, though there are a few games.