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If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know that my ultimate, be-all-end-all, every-dream-has-come-true destination is Antarctica. But before you send me emails about how cold it is there, or question my sanity, let me explain: Antarctica has been the object of desire of countless rulers, leaders and explorers for longer than you or I have been on this earth.
It has born witness to both triumphant success and cruel failure. Consider the amazing fortunes of Ernest Shackleton, who defied the odds to lead his ill-fated Endurance expedition to safety after being beset by pack ice and driven from their ship. Now, contrast that with the horrifying demise of Robert Falcon Scott who, along with Henry Robertson “Birdie” Bowers, Doctor Edward Wilson and Lawrence Oates, froze to death in March of 1912 on his return from the pole.
Famously, Oates didn’t actually perish with Scott – he wandered into a raging blizzard in the middle of the polar darkness, hoping to not weigh his companions down with his declining health.
None of that is supposed to scare you off. For me, it is this diverse history – played out hundreds of years ago at the edge of the world – that makes Antarctica such a desirable cruise destination.
Perhaps one of the most enriching ways to explore Antarctica is aboard the ships of Lindblad Expeditions. Made up of hybrid cruise and research vessels, their intimate fleet of ships routinely host some of the most respected scientists, researchers, photographers and biologists in the industry, who are there to work and interact with passengers about their findings.
The Lindblad cachet doesn’t stop there, though: they are the only line that can boast a unique partnership with National Geographic. This one-of-a-kind arrangement allows Lindblad to offer some truly unique perks to guests looking for an Antarctic experience like no other.
Their 11-night Journey to Antarctica itineraries are tough to beat.
Embarking in Ushuaia, Argentina, it is here that you will meet your oceangoing home for your journey south: the comfortable and well-appointed National Geographic Explorer.
Following your crossing of the notorious Drake Passage, the real fun begins. For six solid days, guests will have the opportunity to cruise and explore some of Antarctica’s most impressive sights. With almost 24 hours of solid daylight, the possibilities are endless, and Lindblad makes sure the schedule here is developed on a per-sailing basis to take advantage of every available opportunity.
You might set out on one of the onboard Zodiac rafts to cruise past enormous icebergs or to make a shore landing on a remote island, hike to the summit for some incredible photo opportunities or kayak alongside growlers and crystal-blue ice floes.
But perhaps the most amazing part of this journey is standing aboard the National Geographic Explorer as she plows her way through the Antarctic pack ice – creating a cacophony of crunching, crashing noises and causing your ship to vibrate ever so slightly.
Of course, being aboard a National Geographic ship offers its own unique privileges: the ship’s resident Undersea Specialist might present some video shot from the Remote Operated Vehicle, or ROV, allowing guests a rare glimpse at footage shot from a depth of almost 1,000 feet below the surface of your vessel.
Being onboard a “working ship” doesn’t mean sacrificing comfort. With its navy blue hull, yellow pinstripe and white superstructure, National Geographic Explorer is arguably one of the most comfortable expedition ships you can sail aboard. Capable of carrying just 148 guests in 81 outside staterooms, some of which include private balconies, there’s certain to be a stateroom or suite to suit ever taste. This 356-foot vessel also includes many big-ship amenities like a fitness centre, a sauna, spa treatment rooms, an observation lounge, and a cozy cart room that serves up tea and coffee around the clock.
Maritime buffs will relish the Open-Bridge policy, allowing guests to visit the navigation bridge and chat with the Captain and Officers when conditions permit; an increasingly rare opportunity these days.
If that wasn’t enough, the hull of National Geographic Explorer is strengthened to the point where her Captain can safely “park” her on the Antarctic pack ice when conditions permit, allowing guests to disembark the ship directly and go for a wander.
Guest speakers round out the astonishing variety of experts and specialists onboard this one-of-a-kind itinerary.
If only all learning could be this fun!
My local evening newscast recently ran a story about a woman from Abbotsford, British Columbia who found herself ensnared in a free cruise scam. Not surprisingly, the scam had a familiar ring – it is the same one that has been making the rounds here and in the United States for years now.
It goes like this: someone typically cold-calls you and says you’ve won a free cruise. What you’ve actually won, though, is a taxes-only, two-night cruise to the Bahamas that involves high-pressure timeshare sales presentations.
I even had my own brush with this scam back in 2005, before I had ever started writing about cruising. I had – stupidly – entered one of those “Win a Free Cruise!” draws at a home and garden convention held in the Vancouver area, which I then promptly forgot about. Four weeks later, I was talking to a man purporting to be from Pensacola, Florida who claimed I had, indeed, one a free cruise to the Bahamas.
But there were some snags: I’d have to spend some time in Floridian cities I’d never heard of. I’d have to rent a car to drive in-between these cities, staying in hotels with vague-sounding names. I’d have to pay airfare and port charges and “incurred costs” along the way. I was assured there would be no timeshare pitches, though he couldn’t answer my question as to why I had to visit all these cities and hotels. The whole thing smelled, so I shut him down.
“But sir,” I remember the man from Pensacola saying, “you’re turning down a free cruise?”
No – I was turning down a scam.
I should point out that major cruise lines sometimes run “Win a Free Cruise” sweepstakes, and those are entirely different. But if someone calls you out of the blue, claiming you’ve won a free cruise – or even if you’ve entered a generic “Win a Cruise!” draw – you haven’t.
In the case of the woman from Abbotsford, her “free” cruise likely cost her as much as a real cruise would have. The cruise line she supposedly won the cruise on – Caribbean Cruise Line – is not an actual cruise line. In fact, Cruise Critic’s Dan Askin wrote extensively about this scam three years ago, following through with it as though he was a prospective traveller.
Caribbean Cruise Line holds an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau, and has received 1,345 filed complaints with the Bureau in the past three years.
Since Caribbean Cruise Line isn’t an actual cruise operator, the company puts passengers – if they ever get there – aboard Celebration Cruise Line’s Bahamas Celebration, a former Baltic ferry that has been converted and pressed into operating short turnaround cruises from West Palm Beach, Florida to the Bahamas.
Celebration Cruise Line isn’t involved with this particular scam, but as Askin pointed out in his 2010 article, they do rely on timeshare pitches to help fill the first-timer, budget-oriented ship.
Interestingly, however, Celebration Cruise Line does offer its own “Win a Cruise!” link on their website – and it comes with some very severe-sounding legalese:
“Entrant agrees to binding arbitration as sole method to resolve any challenges to entry, contest or drawing, and waives and right to seek judicial relief except to enforce an arbitration award. Complete set of entry terms, winner’s list and rules may be obtained by sending a written request to Sponsor. Entrant agrees to be contacted by telephone, mail and/or e-mail and agrees that this consent will supersede any do not call list that entrant or the telephone number Entrant’s provides may be on. Entrant expressly requests and understands that CCL may call entrant to offer additional travel services and vacation packages for purchase or any other purposes, and waives all prior and existing no call registrations.”
Notice the part about your entry into said contest allows them to contact you by mail, email or telephone. Repeatedly. Also note the paragraph about binding arbitration to resolve any unforeseen difficulties you may have along the way.
Years ago, Celebration Cruise Line’s predecessor was Imperial Majesty Cruise Line, which was worth a go just to experience the classic (and now sadly-scrapped) Regal Empress. But the Florida area offers a plethora of short two-and-three-night sailings out of places like Tampa, Port Everglades, Miami and Port Canaveral aboard much newer and more feature-laden ships than the Bahamas Celebration.
If you really want a two-night cruise to the Bahamas – or any voyage, for that matter – my advice is always the same: book it yourself, on the line and the ship that you want. Because you’re always, always, going to get what you pay for.
From the Deck Chair will return tomorrow.
One year ago this week, I set sail on a ten-day expedition voyage around the British Isles aboard Silversea’s adventurous Silver Explorer. In the 365 days that have passed, those ten days have crossed my mind over and over again.
The 132-guest Silver Explorer is probably best known as the lead ship for Silversea’s Silversea Expeditions arm that routinely offers enriching and active voyages to some of the most remote destinations in the world, including Antarctica, Arctic Svalbard, and even Canada’s Hudson Bay and Northwest Passage.
But Silversea also offers so-called “repositioning voyages” aboard the Silver Explorer, and my ten-day journey from Portsmouth, England to Greenock, Scotland was one such voyage.
These are proper expeditions in their own right, and are every bit as adventurous as the line’s polar offerings. There aren’t any shore excursions per se; instead, guests all disembark together for a day of touring by zodiac raft, motorcoach, hiking, walking – you name it. Even better, all of these overland adventures are included in the price of your cruise, which – in some cases – can be less than the line’s mainline ultra-luxury fleet.
Now that we’ve gotten the technical stuff out of the way, let me try – however inadequately – to paint a picture of why some guests return again and again to the Silver Explorer. A full recap of our voyage:
In ten very short days, I zipped around on the ship’s Zodiac rafts in blazing sun, pouring rain, and thick fog. I discovered the amazing sanctuary that is Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, toured the Dartmouth Naval Academy, hiked The Giant’s Causeway, zipped around the Ring of Kerry, visited Kylemore Abbey and the Irish Connemara Countryside, and even spent a memorable morning walking around the entirely deserted island of Staffa, in Scotland’s Hebridean Islands.
Under the direction of Silver Explorer’s fantastic Expeditions Team – led on my sailing by Robin West and Jarda Versloot – I saw, experienced, and did more in those ten days than I ever thought possible. Sailing aboard Silver Explorer is like having your own local in-depth land tour, but from the comfort of an ultra-luxury cruise ship.
It blended everything I loved about Silversea’s ultra-luxury cruise product with the thrill of expedition cruising. I also learned more than I ever would have dreamed from the expedition staff, from the wonders of botany to being more excited than I could have imagined when we drifted by dozens of Puffins basking in the warm waters off the coast of Staffa.
Perhaps more importantly, I’ve taken the lessons and knowledge I learned aboard Silver Explorer and applied it to the next 365 days of my life. I can identify flowers that I never could before, and I now pay close attention to the birds and wildlife that I encounter on each trip.
I have always been fascinated by exploration, but as I said last year in my Live Voyage Recap, I would have made a terrible Ernest Shackleton. I ordered room service more than once aboard the Silver Explorer which, just like on Silversea’s larger luxury vessels, came with a tablecloth, covered dishes, and a full setting of cutlery all delivered by my Butler.
I developed a nagging cold after our rainy day in Waterford, Ireland that I was able to cure with the kind assistance of the bar staff, who kept me plied with hot lemon-and-rum toddies well into the night.
I also got to know the diverse, interesting and wonderful passengers and crew who were sailing with me. A Silversea ship is a social ship, and nowhere is that more accurate than aboard the Silver Explorer. I chatted with passengers about their third trip through South Africa, their two journeys to Antarctica, and other exotic destinations. I officially won the “bland travel story” award with my tales of an Eastern Caribbean cruise I’d taken two months before, but held my own with my memorably stormy voyage in the Aegean twelve years prior.
You would be hard-pressed to meet more kind, generous and fascinating people anywhere else.
If you chose to set out aboard the Silver Explorer like I did, there are a few important things you should know.
The journey – no matter which itinerary you pick – will forever spoil “normal” cruising for you. Once you’ve explored an uninhabited island, drank Guinness at the Giant’s Causeway, or have had a private tour at the most prestigious naval academy in the United Kingdom, a day call on St. Thomas starts to look about as entertaining as the colour grey.
But that’s the brilliant part about travel, and the exciting thing about the Silver Explorer: it is almost guaranteed to wake up the adventurer in all of us.
Life is short, and the world around us is so large. It would be impossible to see and do everything on this planet, but an expedition voyage aboard the Silver Explorer will take you closer than most.
And you’ll remember it for the next year of your life – and beyond.
Click here to see all sailings aboard Silversea’s Silver Explorer, and be sure to read our complete Live Voyage Report from last year as we sailed around the British Isles.
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