Sea Adventurer doesn't have any nightclubs or stage shows, but the staff kept us well entertained. Shortly before dinner was a nightly recap, in which several members of the expedition staff gave quick but informative presentations about the wildlife or natural features seen on the day's excursions -- such as polar bears, glaciers or Arctic flowers. The expedition leader then ran through the schedule for that evening and the next day.
After dinner, the options varied from night to night, from a Champagne celebration on deck when we crossed the 80-degree north latitude line to bar talks from the expedition staff about their past travel or research experiences. One fun evening featured an appearance from the "liars' club," in which four staff members told unlikely sounding stories and we had to guess which one wasn't true.
There were a few competitions throughout the week, including a silly hat contest at our Arctic barbecue and a photo contest whose submissions turned into a stunning slideshow at the end of the week. On our final night, there was a party in the main lounge featuring music, dancing and a table groaning with chocolate desserts.
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The heart of onboard activity is the main lounge on the Upper Deck, where passengers gather for nightly lectures and relax during the day with cookies, coffee, water and tea (available 24 hours). It's a cozy space with wood paneling on the walls and furniture in bright shades of blue and red-orange. Banquette seating lines both sides, while tables and upholstered chairs (all bolted down in case of rough seas) are scattered around the center of the room. Three screens descend from the ceiling during naturalist presentations.
There's a grand piano in one corner -- never used during our cruise -- and a bar in another, open from 6:30 a.m. until about midnight. The drink menu includes beer ($4.50 to $4.75), wine by the glass ($5.75), cocktails ($7.25 to $8) and "Expedition Favorites" such as the Fuzzy Navel, Golden Cadillac and Glacier Melt ($7.25 to $7.50 on average). Bottles of wine hail from Italy, California, France, South America and Australia, ranging in price from $22 for the house reds and whites to $225 for the highest-end Champagne. Nonalcoholic drinks (sodas, juice, mineral water) were also available from $2.75 to $4 apiece.
In the back of the room are numerous games including Scrabble, Yahtzee and "a whale of a game" called Krill, in which you have to figure out the correct sequence of food chains using cards such as elephant seals and phytoplankton.
While the lounge is a relaxed and comfortable space, it feels a bit worn in spots and isn't particularly well set up for observation. The windows are too small and high to see much besides the sky unless you're standing right next to them, and several are blocked by various parts of the ship's exterior structure.
Also on the Upper Deck is the club room (also known as the Clipper Club), where you'll find another bar as well as a big screen that runs a constant scroll of the daily program. This spot tends to be less frequented than the main lounge. Along the interior wall are sofas, armchairs and small tables; next to the windows are higher tables with painted-on chess/checkers boards and seats for three.
The library on the Captain's Deck was usually one of the quieter spots onboard, with a selection of comfy armchairs, couches and tables surrounded by shelves of fiction and topical fare (such as nature guides and historical accounts of polar expeditions). There's another good stock of board games here, as well as an Internet cafe with two computer terminals for passenger use. You can get online via these machines or on your own device, but the connection (via satellite) can be achingly slow or absent altogether.
Note that access is quite expensive -- $20 for 10MB of data, $50 for 30MB and $130 for 100MB -- and the purchase is nonrefundable, even if you never manage to get online. A sign posted in the Internet cafe cautions that many passengers with Apple devices have a hard time connecting to the ship's Wi-Fi signal for technical reasons. If all you need is to send a few messages, you can purchase a shipboard email account for $30, good for the entire week.
Also in the library is a dedicated laptop where passengers can upload photos from the voyage to be included in the online gallery everyone can access at the end of the voyage. (Note that these photos may also be used by Quark in promotional materials.)
Not far from the library is the ship's medical clinic. There's a doctor on all itineraries.
A small gift shop near reception sells everything from jackets and base layers to jewelry and polar bear postcards. You can even buy a camera there if some catastrophe befalls your own. The shop seemed to be closed nearly every time we walked by, but usually there were PA announcements to let passengers know when it was open for business.
There are multi-level observation areas on both the bow and stern of the ship, where passengers gather with cameras and binoculars in search of whales, polar bears and other wildlife. There are a few chairs and tables on deck in the back of the ship, but given the chilly polar temperatures these are rarely in use.
A small, windowless gym tucked away at one end of the Main Deck is home to two stationary bikes, a bench press, a universal gym, a free weight bench and a selection of dumbbells. There are no hot tubs, fitness classes or spa onboard.
Shore excursions offer the best chances to be active. Adventure options include kayaking, snowshoeing and even camping for a night in Antarctica; these activities vary from itinerary to itinerary, and some incur an additional fee.
On every trip you'll have the opportunity to walk and hike ashore. (Note that landings may be called off on Svalbard itineraries if a polar bear is detected anywhere nearby.) Groups are split by walking pace; the "contemplative" walkers take a leisurely stroll and have ample time for photography and naturalist interpretation, while the "chargers" cover more ground and get more of a workout. The moderate group falls in between.
Children are relatively rare aboard Sea Adventurer, given the exotic and expensive itineraries. The minimum age is 8, and Quark recommends that parents pack an appropriately sized life jacket for each child. There are no special programs or services for kids.