Editor's note: The Akademik Ioffe was operated by One Ocean Expeditions, but the line went bust in 2019. In 2020 it was confirmed that the ship will return to service as a research vessel and not as a cruise ship for charter.
The ship is a Russian polar research vessel that has been converted into a true expedition-style polar expedition cruise ship. It is particularly appropriate for wilderness adventure lovers who don't need loads of luxury add-ons. The quality and number of expert expedition staff -- from naturalists, bear and bird experts to historians, geologists, photographers and artists -- is extremely impressive. They are not only knowledgeable but are also adept in presenting information in entertaining ways. Expedition staff sit with guests at meal times so that they can share information and chat informally.
The daily schedule is dictated by the weather and the location of the ship with the opportunity for wildlife experiences the biggest driver. Mealtimes are changed if wildlife is on shore or in the surrounding sea and the line prides itself on its flexible schedules. That being said, plenty of time is given for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as generous downtime.
The cabins, while not luxurious, are comfortable with attention given to maximizing space. Unfortunately, some deck space is taken up with bulky research equipment and if the weather is bad, there is not much public indoor space leaving passengers stuck sitting in their cabins. The open bridge is a popular area for cruisers to look for wildlife but the bar area is too small for the number of people onboard.
Meals are tasty, plentiful and varied, with some being exceptional. Desserts are a delight. Alcohol prices are reasonable and there is a good selection of drinks onboard.
The Russian crew is professional and friendly and the Russian wait staff are enthusiastic and try hard to speak simple English.
On the tech side, the ship has a Lloyds 1A-rated ice-strengthened hull along with complex internal stabilizers, multi-pitch propulsion and bow and stern thrusters, which offer exceptional maneuverability. Expansive observation decks offer 360-degree views, perfect for operation in the Antarctic and High Arctic. A dedicated mud room is the entry and exit point for all off-ship excursions.
The ship is larger than other polar ships, with huge upper decks and an expansive bow and yet it accommodates 30 to 40 fewer people than most of them. Because the ship caters to a maximum of only 96 people, it offers an excellent staff-to-passenger ratio and as well as a low-impact wilderness experience that only a small ship can do.
Safety procedures are exceptional throughout the voyage, with loading and unloading of Zodiacs, even for people with limited mobility, done with the utmost of care. The downside is that it can sometimes take up to an hour to get all the passengers onboard for some excursions. Strict protocols are followed for all shore excursions in polar bear country with expedition staff checking out the areas in advance and always carrying rifles.
As with most basic expedition cruises, a polar expedition journey on Akademik Ioffe appeals to active nature and wilderness lovers. Many of the passengers are retirees although your sailing might also have people in their forties and fifties. People travel as couples, groups of friends and as singles. A few families also take these trips.
Both the Arctic and Antarctic trips appeal to a wide range of nationalities including English, Australians, Americans, Canadians and Swiss.