This was our first cruise and we were not interested in boarding a huge vessel with multiple restaurants, cinemas etc. We were interested in being able to disembark and actually experience the landscape rather than just see it. This ship ... Read More
This was our first cruise and we were not interested in boarding a huge vessel with multiple restaurants, cinemas etc. We were interested in being able to disembark and actually experience the landscape rather than just see it. This ship takes a max of 148 passengers. We booked a category 5 cabin which had a verandah - we were lucky enough to stand there and photograph a polar bear walking along the near shoreline, as well as multiple opportunities for viewing the ice pack, glaciers, landscape etc.
We were able to disembark most days. This process went very smoothly as we were generally divided into three groups - "long walks", "medium walks" and "short walks". Each walk was described in terms of length, elevation, terrain etc so that you could make an informed choice. "Long walkers" disembarked first via small zodiacs (approx 8-10 people on each), and there was very little waiting required. Those on short walks would have had to wait the longest, but each group was called 15 minutes before disembarkation so you could use your time in other ways, rather than having to hang around the disembarkation room. There was also a couple of opportunities for zodiac excursions for those less inclined to walk or to see specific wildlife (for us that meant a "haul out" of walruses which were sleeping on a beach) or glacier walls. On several days, there were both morning and afternoon "expeditions" (walks, kayaking, zodiac excursions), all optional of course.
The ice conditions were such that we actually managed to circumnavigate Spitsbergen and visit some of the outlying islands in the archipelago. We were lucky enough to see 5 polar bears in relatively close proximity to the ship and a couple more at huge distance. Also saw seals, blue whales, narwhales, fin whales, walruses, arctic foxes and more birds than I can label. Although this was marketed as a "Land of the Ice bear" cruise, you are really in the lap of the gods when it comes to wildlife actually appearing. However, even if we had seen nothing but the marvellous birdlife, just the scenery and the sheer exhilaration of walking on one of the remotest spots on the planet would have been enough for me.
The ship operates an "open bridge" policy 24 hours a day so you can go and check out the view from there. One night the captain allowed the ship to meander along a wall of cliffs, covered in nesting sea birds. Quite a few of us piled into the bridge to watch this, and were rewarded with the sight of four arctic foxes patrolling the lower reaches of the cliffs, looking for fallen eggs and fledglings. I wish I had used the bridge more often during our time - the atmosphere was great !
Other public spaces were the library - almost fully glassed walls so the views were spectacular, the lounge (for presentations, socialising etc), the bistro (a more casual dining area with the same food as the main restaurant) and the main restaurant. The food was excellent, with plenty of healthy choices. Buffet style for breakfast and lunch (although you could order eggs any way for breakfast), and a la carte for dinner. Table sizes ranged from 4 to 8, and you could choose your own table at any meal. The bistro area had more two seater tables, which appealed to the more introverted. The buffet had two sides to it, so any queues moved very quickly. Alcohol was free on the first night and last night, due to the Captain's welcome cocktail evening and farewell cocktail evening. Otherwise, it was reasonably priced and certainly much cheaper than Norway ! Service was top notch, with all the waiters learning your name within 24 hours.
There were a number of presentations on subjects ranging from sustainability, wildlife, photography etc. And there was a daily "recap" in the lounge each evening before dinner, where the day's highlights were presented, together with a selection of photographs and videos. We didn't attend all of these - just according to whim/mood. Passengers were mainly American, with a small handful of international folk (like us !). Demographic mainly older/retired. No tour groups either, which is great as some groups can cause a bit of havoc due to differing cultural values/practices. We were accompanied by half a dozen naturalists, some of whom were also expert photographers. They joined us at mealtimes and were a very diverse but engaging and friendly group of people.
Laundry was very reasonably priced, and there was also a retractable washing line in the ensuite bathrooms so you could wash out smalls etc, if you wanted to.
The trip officially starts in Oslo and the day before embarkation there were bus trips to a couple of sights in Oslo - we chose to avoid those, not being big fans of escorted bus tours. Similarly, after disembarkation we had a day to kill in Longyearbyen, the port on Spitsbergen, whilst waiting for our charter flight to arrive with the next batch of passengers. The entertainment was a bus tour around the local sights (which are limited !), and a buffet lunch in a hotel which seems to deal mainly with large tour groups - that was a bit of a rugby scrum and something I would normally avoid like the plague.
This is a trip I would do again in a heart beat and I think we have now become converts to the cult of Lindblad/national Geographic ! Truly fabulous voyage. Read Less