Zegrahm Expeditions owns no ships of its own, so they typically charter a suitable ship from another company. This review is of the Zegrahm Expeditions July 6-20, 2017 "Wild Alaska" expedition aboard the Silverseas ship Silver ... Read More
Zegrahm Expeditions owns no ships of its own, so they typically charter a suitable ship from another company. This review is of the Zegrahm Expeditions July 6-20, 2017 "Wild Alaska" expedition aboard the Silverseas ship Silver Discoverer. The dozen or so naturalists on the trip were all contracted with Zegrahm, but the ship and the rest of the ship's staff were all Silversea employees. Most of this review will address the Silverseas part of the partnership, but later I'll touch on the Zegrahm part as well.
The Silver Discoverer is a small, (120 pax), intimate and comfortable, but old (1989) ship. The crew and staff were excellent, service was mostly very good, and dining - especially dinner - was superb . . . just what you would expect on a Silverseas cruise. But the ship is getting a little long in the tooth. The cabins are clean and well-maintained, but they are modest in size - and the bathroom is downright tiny and cramped. Closets and drawer space are barely sufficient. Among the dated features is that the bed sits too low to slide a big suitcase underneath, so we had to store it in the corner of an already small cabin. Most cabins have windows or port holes, but not balconies. The Silver Discoverer is not nearly as stable as newer ships. We were often rockin' and rollin' a lot. My wife and I have been on two dozen small-ship cruises, and this is the first time she has needed to wear a patch.
The common areas on board are adequate. The deck 5 lounge is bright and roomy with good viewing out the sides of the ship. It opens onto the pool deck, (the small pool was not open for business), with more excellent viewing. The main lounge on deck 4, however, is very tight for lectures, receptions, etc. Very difficult for the wait staff to take orders and serve beverages.
Dinners, as mentioned above, were excellent . . . nice variety and selection, well prepared and presented, with some very good wines included with the meal. Dinner service was typically very, very good. We (in our traveling group of six) usually found ourselves at the same table each evening, so we usually had the same servers. We grew especially fond of Shawn, Marianne, Phillipe and Melvin, who also got to know us quite well and brought humor and charm to the dining experience.
Dinner is also available on the pool deck - weather permitting. When you are cruising the Bering Sea, the weather is usually not conducive to alfresco dining, but we gave it a shot one evening and had a great time and a great meal. We were well bundled up and cooked our own food on "hot rocks". With calmer seas and warmer temperatures, we would have done this more often. Lunch was also available on the pool deck and proved to be a very popular option in spite of the weather. Burgers, dogs and excellent fish sandwiches were the normal fare for lunch.
Breakfast and lunch were often difficult. The quality and variety of the food was good, but the buffet area was very small, extremely congested and inefficient. Lines were often long and passengers had to compete with staff trying to replenish the buffet. Food was often displayed illogically. For example, salad toppings (bacon, peppers, mushrooms, croutons, etc.) were the first items on the buffet, then, further in, you came to a lettuce bowl. So if you wanted a salad of lettuce covered with toppings, you had to backtrack the line and trip over the guests behind you. Most of the chafing dishes were small and had to be restocked often, further exacerbating the congestion. For some reason, the worst service on the cruise was at breakfast . . . even getting a cup of tea or coffee was often a challenge.
The only entertainment on board was Florandy at the piano, (who was very talented at playing and singing a wide variety of familiar songs, and quite personable, too), and one night of karaoke.
Here, the Zegrahm half of the partnership came into play, and the Zegrahm experience was mostly very positive. The Zegrahm naturalists were terrific. They were well educated (many PhD's) in a variety of fields such as geology, botany, marine biology, ornithology, history, etc., but they were also very personable and friendly, and brought much life and enthusiasm into what we were seeing. They all were also capable and safe Zodiac drivers, an important factor when most every day you're making a couple of wet landings in often choppy water.
The itinerary took us from Nome, up to the Arctic Circle, to Provideniya, Russia, back down through the Bering Sea and up the Aleutian Islands and Katmai Peninsula to Seward. We saw several small, mostly struggling villages - including one long-abandoned Norwegian cod fishing village. We walked the often-barren tundra, which, in July, was alive with flowers. Mostly, however, we saw wildlife. We saw, up close and personal, birds galore; (including the elusive McCay's Bunting, which is found only on St. Lawrence Island); Orcas and Humpbacks cavorting in the frigid waters; seals, seal lions and sea otters; a gray wolf wandering the shoreline; and, of course, lots of brown bears. The wildlife is the primary reason we signed on to this cruise, and we weren't disappointed.
There were, alas, a few things which I did NOT like about Zegrahm. I booked this (very expensive) excursion over a year in advance. The trip began with a group dinner at the Anchorage Marriott on July 6th, and we boarded the Silver Discoverer in Nome on July 7th. It wasn't until sometime in March that we learned that we were responsible for booking and paying for our own, July 7th, flight from Anchorage to Nome. In the scheme of things, this $200pp cost is pretty insignificant, but it sure felt like nickel and diming on what was promoted as an all-inclusive trip. They should have charged $200 more for the entire excursion and included the flight.
You gotta have boots to navigate all the wet landings. I was on an Antarctic expedition cruise with Ponant in December 2016. We needed boots there as well, but Ponant had a large inventory of boots on board, and we each were fitted and supplied with boots for the duration of the journey. But with Zegrahm, you had to bring your boots with you. They had a vendor from whom you could buy or rent boots, but you had to pack them in your luggage and schlep them back home with you. It's tough packing for a two-three week trip as it is; two pair of boots take up a lot of room - and weight - in your luggage. I much preferred the Ponant approach.
I've taken two expedition cruises in the last year, Zegrahm and Ponant. (I wrote a Cruise Critic review of my Antarctica cruise on Ponant's Le Soleal.) Both were memorable, fun and exciting, and I'm happy with each experience. Zegrahm does a great job and seems to have a very loyal base of repeat travelers, (some of our fellow passengers had traveled with Zegrahm a dozen or more times in the past). But for my next expedition cruise, I will probably lean toward Ponant. The ship is newer, more comfortable and in some ways more convenient (i.e. boots), and overall it seems to be a better value for the money. Read Less