By guest contributor Roderick Eime, editor of Adventure Cruise Guide aboard the world’s top-rated* expedition ship, MS Hanseatic.
Expedition Südsee, (South Seas) Tahiti to Fiji, 14 days
It’s rated the world’s only 5-star expedition cruise ship according to the authoritative Berlitz Guide and it’s easy to see why. Even though this Finnish-built, 1A Super ice-rated vessel is approaching her 20th birthday, she is still in better condition than some ships half her age. Continuously modernized with fancy comforts like the new in-cabin entertainment and e-mail system, she still maintains an ‘as new’ feel. Her most recent upgrade took place in June 2011.
First impressions? Well, sailing aboard any Hapag-Lloyd (HL) vessel is a distinction, but it is also a new cultural experience for many first-timers like me. Shipboard manners are somewhat more formal than you might be used to on other smaller vessels, expedition or not. I’m used to adventure ships with a distinctly casual atmosphere, but while there are plenty of smiles and pleasant greetings, this is a ship for the well-to-do and you are often treated in a semi-regal fashion by the spotlessly uniformed and impeccably mannered staff. No-one has clicked their heels yet, but you get my drift.
Cuisine and food presentation is masterful and truly fine dining. Five or six courses in the single-seating Marco Polo Restaurant is de rigueur or you can make a reservation in the more convivial Bistro Lemaire, where ‘ethnic’ dishes are rotated to reflect the international flavor of the itineraries. The cabin minibar, with soft drinks, beer, water and juice in included, but curiously water (E1.50) and wine (E3.50) is charged in the restaurants. Coffee, tea and gourmet snacks are available all day, and the coffee is good.
Shipboard facilities are what you would expect from a much larger ship with gym, boutique, salon, pool, cabin service, etc. It really is a practical combination of the luxury elements of the line’s premier vessel, Europa, and the capabilities of a smaller, expedition ship. As expected, there is a dedicated lecture hall. Most frontline staff are German with fluency in English, whereas, as is common, deck hands and crew are Filipino.
Cabins exist across eight categories on four of the six decks and all are outside, but none have private balconies. Two cabins are disabled-friendly, while the eight cabins and four suites on top deck enjoy butler service.
Shore excursions are conducted with a combination of tie-ups at wharves and tendering by either zodiac or enclosed lifeboats as appropriate for the destination facilities. Organized tours are typically 50-70 EURO or you can do your own thing, but prior research is advised if you are the independent type.
Reservations? As with all expedition vessels, this type of cruising will not suit everyone. The main language aboard is German and while all staff are fluent in English, not all are familiar with the subtleties of the language, let alone my off-the-wall Australian humor. Some voyages (like this one) are advertised as bi-lingual, so announcements, some lectures and documentation are available in English also. All reputable cruise agents trained to sell HL cruises will point these factors out to prospective clients. Having said all that, my dear octogenarian mother, who wouldn’t know Franz Beckenbauer from a dachshund, is a diehard HL fan.
* according to Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships 2012