En Route: North At­lantic cruise

Seven rea­sons why you should book a North At­lantic ex­pe­di­tion cruise

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - Story and pho­tog­ra­phy by Re­becca Mccormick

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-

1. Ma­neu­ver­abil­ity

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.

2. Flex­i­bil­ity

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.

3. In­ti­macy

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.

5. Ed­u­ca­tion

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!

7. In­spi­ra­tion

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.

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