Day or night, Mother Nature takes center stage, no matter if you're watching icebergs or whales from the ship or hiking onshore. For landings on Antarctica, passengers are briefed beforehand about the area's history and what to expect; stepping onshore, they are immediately given suggestions as to which path to take to see, for instance, a seal resting on a beach, or where to get the fabulous view of icebergs. But after that, passengers are mostly left to wander as they see fit. For instance, four days spent along the Antarctic Peninsula offered a single guided hike, which was a physically demanding trek of about three miles that included steep, snowy slopes.
But on nearly every shore visit to other Fram destinations, including longer Antarctic trips that call on the Falklands and South Shetland Islands, there typically is a guided (or more likely self-guided using the map that's supplied) walk through town and free entrance to museums. Optional excursions in Greenland include a small boat trip to see enormous icebergs up close, sea kayaking or a spectacular helicopter flight over the polar icecap.
The prime extra option on Antarctic voyages is the chance to spend the night onshore, sleeping in two-person tents. Fram is limited to putting only 10 passengers and one expedition-crew escort on shore overnight, so passengers willing to pay the extra fee to sleep on the continent put their names into a drawing. On other itineraries, guests are given the chance to sleep out on the deck of the ship in a warm sleeping bag, often under the midnight sun.
* May require additional fees
During cruising time, expedition crewmembers give outstanding lectures based on their academic specialties: local flora, fauna, history and culture. (On Antarctic trips, there is no native culture to discuss, so a topic such as "who owns Antarctica?" is substituted.) Lectures are given in English and at least one other language, but in separate rooms, so that passengers don't have to sit through endless translations. P.A. announcements are also made in English, followed by a European language version. Beyond the lectures, the only entertainment is likely to be a kitschy talent show by the crew and an auction of ship items particular to your cruise, such as an ensign signed by all expedition crewmembers. On some itineraries, a musician is on staff to play in the observation lounge in the evenings.
Once dinner is finished, passengers head up to the Deck 7 observation lounge, which has the ship's only bar, for cocktails and conversation, or sit at the four-seat tables on Deck 4 to work jigsaw puzzles, play board games and cards, or linger over a cup of coffee or tea. Some return to their cabins to read or watch TV, which loops a few theatrical films (in English and other languages) and American sitcoms, and also streams a selection of satellite channels such as the BBC, the Discovery Channel and some Norwegian networks. Because landings may start as early as 8 a.m., some passengers go to bed shortly after dinner.
The Qilak (meaning "sky") observation lounge on Deck 7 is an exceptionally well-designed space, surrounded on three sides by floor-to-ceiling windows that slant outward and are topped off with a bit of glass ceiling. The front-row swivel seats are a favorite spot to stay warm while watching the ship slowly cruise past massive icebergs at what seems an impossibly close range. Each side of the lounge features a stationary, 85-power spotting scope. The lounge has a restful blue and beige color scheme and is filled with various chairs, tables and bench-type seats. It is the location of the ship's one fully stocked bar.
The Nunami (meaning "on land") lobby, located next to the reception desk on Deck 4 and seating perhaps 25 on couches and chairs, is a popular spot for relaxing, chatting and looking out the large windows. The real attraction there is the faux fireplace -- a large flat-screen TV looping a video of a blazing fire. The funny thing is that it actually feels warm. Talk about the power of suggestion!
Directly behind this digital fire is the Internet cafe, with six computer stations for guest use. You can purchase online time (for use either at the Internet cafe or on your own device) in various increments from reception. Unfortunately, the connection rarely works, and when it does, it's maddeningly slow. Many passengers had better luck staying in touch via calling or texting on their phones.
Fram, above all, is an expedition ship. Therefore, there are two lecture rooms just past the Internet cafe. Each accommodates about 100, seated in ordinary stacking chairs as opposed to theater seats.
A small, pricey gift shop stocked with beautiful Scandinavian sweaters, waterproof pants, various all-weather jackets, winter gear such as gloves and hats, and a few toiletries is also on Deck 4 behind reception.
There is no self-service laundry, but there is next-day valet service at prices consistent with large cruise ships.
The Sun Deck, on Deck 7, is great for relaxing, though on Fram's polar itineraries the temperature is often too cold to make this a longtime resting point. Don't expect fancy loungers; seating is limited to folding chairs made of either wood or blue plastic.
You'll get hours of exercise walking and hiking ashore. In fact, your two feet are the only means of getting around in Antarctica, and numerous hikes are available among the optional excursions on Fram's other itineraries. That said, the ship has a small but attractive wood-floored gym on Deck 7. It's open at all hours and equipped with weights, a Ping-Pong table, fitness balls and numerous machines (treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical machines and a rowing machine). There are no organized fitness classes.
Step through the gym's glass doors, and you'll find two outdoor whirlpools. We often had the tub to ourselves, as not many passengers seemed to use them.
From the gym, stairs lead up one deck to separate men's and women's saunas, locker rooms and showers. The saunas are huge and have a row of portholes facing forward so you don't have to miss the scenery. We actually watched a glacier one evening from inside the sauna. Be aware that many Europeans use the saunas in the nude. Massages and other spa treatments are not available.
Children of at least age 5 are welcome, but there are no special facilities for them onboard, and Fram sees very few young passengers. In cases of rough weather, the captain makes the final call on whether children under age 12 will be allowed ashore (due to safety risks). Pregnant women are permitted up to their sixth month.