En Route: North Atlantic cruise
Seven reasons why you should book a North Atlantic expedition cruise
Until I sailed the North Atlantic Islands a couple of months ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what an expedition cruise was all about. My first clue came when I showed up wearing pink pants to dinner the first night aboard Hurtigruten’s MS Fram. Everybody else looked like they had just emerged from a big box outfitter store. “Honey, you look like an Easter egg in a hay field,” said the passenger from Texas seated next to me, referring to the sea of brown and gray fabrics around us. Furthermore, I’m absolutely positive I was the only one wearing bright fuschia-colored lipstick.
In my own defense, I was a last-minute booking, the grateful beneficiary of a spot on the ship that opened up as the result of a cancellation. And because I am usually available to travel on short notice, I eagerly embraced the chance for an in-depth experience encompassing a true Viking voyage from Norway to the historic landmarks of Scotland, the Shetlands, the Orkneys, the Faroes (including Torshavn, one of the oldest capitals in Northern Europe, found-
ed in the 10th century) and Iceland.
Yes, the itinerary was amazing. Yes, the excursions were enthralling. Yes, the food was fresh, plentiful and delightfully presented. But what I discovered is that people who enjoy excursion-style cruising are travelers for whom the ship and the on-shore activities are a good fit. For me, it was a match made in heaven.
Here are seven reasons why I recommend you take a North Atlantic expedition cruise:
By definition, an expedition ship is smaller than a standard cruise ship. With capacities capped at a couple hundred pas- sengers, overall length is usually less than 400 feet. Additionally, because the vessels are constructed to sail in extreme conditions, their beauty is more the style of an Olympic athlete than a magazine cover model.
A floating city-type cruise ship is restricted to a rigid timetable and itinerary. By contrast, low passenger volume aboard an expedition cruise allows the captain to wiggle the sailing schedule to accommodate unusually good opportunities to provide exceptional guest experiences. In our case, we lollygagged an extra half-hour one afternoon to view nesting eagles.
A couple hundred passengers sharing the same space for two weeks have plenty of opportunities to forge close friendships. On our cruise, for example, a particularly savvy travel agent had marketed the Viking Route to fiber artists who would be interested in the wool industry of rural Scottish sheep farms. Because of their common interests, these ladies – previously unknown to each other - became fast friends and artistic colleagues during the course of the cruise.
4. Variety of experiences
Just below the surface of expedition cruising is an entire universe of experiences outside the realm of traditional large-ship activities. For the most part, expedition itineraries are designed for adventure with the active traveler in mind. One day, you might be hiking up a hillside to tour a centuries-old castle or cathedral. The next day, you might be bouncing around the ocean in a Polarcirkel boat – Hurtigruten’s virtually unsinkable landing craft with unique hull design and “step-bow and railing” construction for comfort and safety. Another day, you might spend the morning sightseeing aboard a city tour bus to help you get your bearings before you step off for an afternoon of free time in town.
As far as I know, continuing education credits were not offered aboard our ship; but the level of expertise by Hurtigruten’s team of expedition guides was truly impressive. Daily lectures (in three languages) helped us understand and appreciate what we were scheduled to see the next day.
6. Interaction with local cultures
Large cruise ships are limited to heavily commercialized ports of call. Expedition cruises, on the other hand, are able to slither into shallow water where they launch excursion boats to shuttle passengers eight at a time to shore. As a result, we trickled into tiny towns like friends coming to visit. What a treat!
Passengers aboard the MS Fram got up early and stayed out late…only not in onboard casinos and nightclubs. Granted, the average age of our passengers was over 50, but these folks were up early – either in the gym or walking the decks. “I don’t come on these cruises to be entertained,” said my Texas sweetie at dinner. “I come to be inspired…by nature, by adventure and by people. For me, the magic of expedition cruising is what happens when you least expect it: a pod of whales breaches the water, a couple decides to renew their wedding vows in an ancient cathedral or a rainbow glitters the sky and follows our ship for a full hour until sundown. How can you top that?” Amen, Sister. I’m hooked and rebooked. Additional information, brochures and reservations can be obtained from travel agents or Hurtigruten’s website, www.hurtigruten.us; by phone at 877-301-3117; or fax at 888-524-2145. To order brochures 24 hours a day, call toll free, 800-582-0835.