Cruise Reviews, Ship Reviews by The Avid Cruiser http://www.avidcruiser.com helping you make informed vacation decisions through cruise reviews, ship reviews and destination reviews Tue, 28 Jul 2015 16:00:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.3 Silver Explorer Arctic Adventure, Day 12: The Upside of Delays http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/28/silver-explorer-arctic-adventure-day-12-the-upside-of-delays/ http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/28/silver-explorer-arctic-adventure-day-12-the-upside-of-delays/#respond Tue, 28 Jul 2015 16:00:52 +0000 http://www.avidcruiser.com/?p=45665 If You Have to Be Stranded Somewhere…Be Stranded On Silversea Monday, July 13, 2015 Longyearbyen! It’s becoming the buzzword of the day aboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer as we enter our second full unscheduled day onboard after fog shutdown Longyearbyen Airport and SAS cancelled our charter flight to Oslo for two days. Any time something... [Read More]

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If You Have to Be Stranded Somewhere…Be Stranded On Silversea
Silversea's Silver Explorer in heavy fog at her anchorage off Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Our unexpected delay when fog closed the airport is actually a gift. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silversea’s Silver Explorer in heavy fog at her anchorage off Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Our unexpected delay when fog closed the airport is actually a gift. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Monday, July 13, 2015

Longyearbyen!

It’s becoming the buzzword of the day aboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer as we enter our second full unscheduled day onboard after fog shutdown Longyearbyen Airport and SAS cancelled our charter flight to Oslo for two days. Any time something inexplicable happens, guests just throw up their hands and say, Longyearbyen!

Day breaks, but the fog that cancelled our charter flight yesterday from Longyearbyen still remains. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Day breaks, but the fog that cancelled our charter flight yesterday from Longyearbyen still remains. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

More than just a state of mind, Beautiful Downtown Longyearbyen, Svalbard was ours to explore today. I use the phrase slightly tongue-in-cheek, because at first glance Svalbard’s largest settlement has all the sparkle and charm of Dickensian workhouse. You know. The kind where Oliver Twist begs for food. That kind. The whole thing looks like the set of a Michael Bay movie without the explosions.

But, in its odd way, Longyearbyen is charming. You just have to let it in.

Silversea ran a continuous Zodiac shuttle service for us to go ashore and make the most of our unscheduled day in Longyearbyen. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silversea ran a continuous Zodiac shuttle service for us to go ashore and make the most of our unscheduled day in Longyearbyen. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Walking into town along the only major road in the city. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Walking into town along the only major road in the city. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Anyone have mail for Santa Claus? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Anyone have mail for Santa Claus? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Outflow from the mountains into the harbour. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Outflow from the mountains into the harbour. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Beautiful Downtown Longyearbyen! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Beautiful Downtown Longyearbyen! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It was a relaxing day aboard the Silver Explorer today as the fog continued to envelop us, and our Expedition Team tried to extract any and all information from SAS regarding our charter flight from Longyearbyen to Oslo. It was cancelled yesterday, cancelled today, and now guests waited with abated breath to see if we’d be going anywhere tomorrow.

We had to leave our berth yesterday evening and anchor in the harbour to allow other vessels to berth. We’re far from the only ones being affected by this fog; seven vessels – including Hapag-Lloyd’s Bremen, G Adventures’ Expedition, and one Quark Expeditions ship were with us in port today – and all were discovering they were going nowhere fast, too.

It's Not Just Us: Plenty of other expedition ships, including G Adventures' Expedition (shown here) have been affected by the closure of the airport. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It’s Not Just Us: Plenty of other expedition ships, including G Adventures’ Expedition (shown here) have been affected by the closure of the airport. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Now, I don’t want to downplay this: this is a stressful time for me. I have a river cruise that’s supposed to leave tonight from Amsterdam. I have a flight to Amsterdam that cancelled out at 7pm because I couldn’t establish a reliable phone or internet connection with KLM. I have no hotel in Oslo. I have articles backing up on the blog, and two magazine pieces I can’t deliver – not to mention my weekly column in The Province, which is looking wholly unlikely at this point. It’ll be the first time in four years I’ve missed a week.

Darn you, Longyearben! You'll see this a lot here...though I suspect the numerous ships in port resulted on most available Wi-Fi hotspots disappearing. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Darn you, Longyearben! You’ll see this a lot here…though I suspect the numerous ships in port resulted on most available Wi-Fi hotspots disappearing. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

And yet, what can I do? I can’t will away the fog any more than the Expedition Team can, so why should I lose my cool over it? Some guests have, and I can understand that. They’re worried and not in control of the situation. One can imagine what the mood must be like over at the Radisson Blu in Oslo, where over 100 guests are waiting to fly here to embark the Silver Explorer for what has become an 8-day voyage instead of a 10-day one.

Still, I have no cause for complaint. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are still provided. Our suites are still “ours”, albeit with a few modifications. The interactive TV system doesn’t work; a victim of the new voyage switchover. Fresh fruit isn’t available. I didn’t have my scotch. But who the heck cares? I get two more nights in a gorgeous suite. Butler service is still there. Room service is still there. Three square meals a day with free-flowing wine is still there. The bar is still open, and the entire ship’s company is bending over backwards to ensure we’re kept comfortable.

The Svalbard Arctic Museum: surprisingly good...and they had Wi-Fi! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The Svalbard Arctic Museum: surprisingly good…and they had Wi-Fi! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The Expedition Team is also running continuous Zodiac service between our anchorage and the landing site next to the Port Agent office. So, I took that opportunity to go in hunt of the elusive Wi-Fi signal in Beautiful Downtown Longyearbyen!

Of course, if you have to be “stranded” somewhere, be stranded on Silversea! Martinis, free-flowing wine, staff that are there to help you and care for you and provide emotional support when needed…it’s honestly not a hardship. Sure, it’s inconvenient. Sure, it’s frustrating and sometimes maddening that this world in which man seems to have mastered can collapse like a house of cards with something as simple as a little concentrated mist. But you’re far from being Robert Falcon Scott. He was, to put it politely, totally effed when he got stranded in the polar climes.

Tonight's dinner menu. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

You can even still get room service. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

How bad can things be when you still have full bar service? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

How bad can things be when you still have full bar service? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

My suite, still made up as nicely as ever. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

My suite, still made up as nicely as ever. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I can see my Silversea Expedition Journal now….

Day 37. Longyearbyen. 78°N.

Things have taken a terrible turn: we ran out of Merlot last night, and I don’t think the Pinot Noir can hold out much longer. I’m starting to return to a disturbing level of lucidity. My left hand is gaining muscle tone back from having to actually do work for myself, and I’ve blisters on nearly all my toes from the tepid, two kilometre walk into town. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write much longer…the cognac is too good.

Honestly, this has been a wonderful experience. It’s made the trip of a lifetime into the journey of a lifetime. Let me tell you why.

I’ve had the opportunity to see how the talented crew of the Silver Explorer responds in a crisis – and they have all, without exception, risen to the occasion.

When they couldn’t open the shell doors yesterday because of the tide, they hand-loaded the luggage up a 20-foot gangway, piece by piece.

When we had to move our berth to anchor, they ran a continuous Zodiac shuttle service.

They’re rebooking flights and finding hotels in Oslo – something that can only be done on shore because of the lack of connectivity onboard.

They are treating us like gold. That, to me, says a lot about the way the line operates in general.

Tonight, we learned SAS intends to operate the charter tomorrow. We’re going home. And honestly? I’m a little sad. This has been one of the most stunning experiences I’ve ever had. It crept up on me slowly. The Arctic didn’t reveal herself in one massive go like Antarctica did. I went from being sort of impressed with the region to falling in love with it. Even crazy Longyearbyen is charming in its own way.

Oslo Bound: guests queue up at Longyearbyen Airport on Tuesday, July 14 for our charter flight to Oslo - which did depart! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Oslo Bound: guests queue up at Longyearbyen Airport on Tuesday, July 14 for our charter flight to Oslo – which did depart! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

But more importantly, everyone on this adventure bonded. I gained an enormous amount of respect for the crew of the Silver Explorer, particularly those who I had sailed with before. Not enough praise can be loaded upon Hotel Manager Marcelo and Expedition Leader Juan. These guys are pros. They’re the best of the best. And Silversea is lucky to have them, and the entire crew, of the Silver Explorer, working on their behalf.

As author and general muckraker Hunter S. Thompson once said, the objective in life isn’t to survive without any bruises or scrapes. It’s to slide to the finish line in a cloud of dust, banged up and torn, exclaiming, “Wow – what a ride!”

Surprisingly accurate! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Surprisingly accurate! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer has sadly come to a close. A full recap and updated ship tour will follow in August. Be sure to follow along with all our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

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Tauck’s ms Savor: Danube Reflections, Day Seven, Wachau Valley, A Guest Pedals Along With Me http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/25/taucks-ms-savor-day-seven-wachau-valley/ http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/25/taucks-ms-savor-day-seven-wachau-valley/#respond Sun, 26 Jul 2015 01:30:04 +0000 http://www.avidcruiser.com/?p=45659 “There are two kinds of people. One kind, you can just tell by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more suprises from it. Whereas, the other kind keep moving, changing … They are fluid. They... [Read More]

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Leaving Grein. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

Leaving Grein. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

“There are two kinds of people. One kind, you can just tell by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more suprises from it. Whereas, the other kind keep moving, changing … They are fluid. They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them young. In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive. You must be constantly on your guard against congealing.” – Gail Godwin

I have spent a life in motion, an itinerant cyclist in my twenties (pedaling across the U.S., up the rugged West Coast, back to North Carolina through Canada, through New Zealand, Australia, then Europe — I cycled all of those places and more). During much of that time and since then, I have worked as a peripatetic journalist, sent on assignments around the globe. After graduating from the University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism at Chapel Hill, I worked in an editorial capacity at both travel trade and consumer travel magazines. I wrote for a dozen years for United Airlines’ award-winning in-flight magazine. I loved writing and being on the go, with my family or without them, though I preferred, and still do, traveling with friends and loved ones. What good is an experience, after all, if it is not a shared one?

My life in motion has rewarded me with many beautiful experiences. Absorbing the vibrance of the flower market on a sunny morning in Nice, enjoying coffee and cake in Vienna as Strauss plays lightly in the background, walking among Sweden’s yellow canola fields pitched against a blue sky dotted with cotton ball clouds, watching the dance of the aurora borealis in the Norwegian Arctic, observing the Charlie Chaplinesque antics of penguins in Antarctica, traveling Russia’s Kamchatka region with my son and finding the elusive reindeer herders that no one else could find, cruising with my daughter across Sweden on the world’s oldest passenger ship and hearing her say after I had taken her to a concert where her favorite pop singers were performing in Stockholm, “best night of my life dad.” I’ve dined in palaces and at roadside pizza kiosks. I’ve sipped champagne in St. Petersburg, Becherovka in the Czech Republic, Gammel Dansk in Denmark and Provencal rosé,  only a few weeks ago with my loved one in France’s Camargue region. I could go on.

I was not born with a silver spoon. My family was poor. My father was a logger. At ten years old, I went to work in the forests, driving a tractor to skid out logs. By age 20, I had worked for a decade in the woods. Aware that logging would take my life (literally and figuratively), I decided that I would pedal out of town on a bike. I trained, and on a warm Carolina day in March, I waved goodbye to my dad as I pedaled along our gravel drive, my bike loaded with all that I needed to be self-sufficient, panniers stuffed with clothing, stove, tent and sleeping bag.

I sometimes tire of travel but never of motion. I never grow weary of spinning. At home, which is in Helsingborg, Sweden and in Asheville, North Carolina, I continue to spin. There is something about the motion of pedaling a bike that is soothing. The endorphins, the euphoria. Cycling become therapy in motion. Aside from that, it is downright fun to experience the world on two wheels.

Today on Tauck’s ms Savor, I was preparing for yet another bike ride. In the lounge, where I had a warm pretzel and a couple of bananas (fueling up), I spoke with three people who remarked on my bike ride two days ago from Passau to Linz. From Philadelphia, Pete was traveling with his wife and mother-in-law. “I’m going again today,” I said. “You should join me.” Pete shrugged it off with a laugh as if to say it wasn’t for him. I went back to my room to prepare for the ride, packing my GoPro, my phone, three bottles of water and a first-aid kit. Was I ready? Then came the text on my iPhone.

“Ralph – Pete – on the ship with you – would like to ride with you. When are you leaving?”

“12:10,” I replied, “bring lots of water!”

I wasn’t sure if Pete was up for this. Suppose we had heat and hills like I had yesterday? Suppose we had fierce headwinds? We would need to cover 70 kilometers to reach the ship at 5:30 p.m. in Weissenkirchen. There were a dozen things that could go wrong, but there was one thing that could go right. I’d show Pete the beauty of what I had experienced on two wheels.

Pete’s wife Lori gave him a hug and a kiss. His mother-in-law made me promise to bring him back safely. Sinead, our Tauck tour director, said, “We’ll be on the lookout for the Hawaiian shirt.” Yes, Pete was probably the only one in all of Austria wearing such a shirt.

We pedaled out of the small village of Grein, sharing the highway for 30 minutes or so with traffic until we hit dedicated bike lanes. The opposite side of the river may have been a better choice for the start of our ride. Fortunately, however, we had a light tailwind and while the day was a scorcher, we were creating a light breeze by propelling ourselves along the bike paths.

Our day is largely reflected in the photos below. The pedaling was easy, the scenery stunning. We had time to slow down and talk, riding side by side on the wide bike lanes. After two hours, we pedaled to the top of a lock for an incredible view of the Melk Abbey. An hour later, we stopped for apricots, which were being harvested from groves in the Wachau Valley.

We pedaled along the gently rolling hills in this beautiful valley, with its uber-charming villages set among the vineyards and apricot groves. As we approached Weissenkirchen, we saw ms Savor making her way toward its docking place. We arrived in time to watch the ship dock, having made it safely and with little exhaustion but much exhilaration. Pete remarked that he would have regretted not doing the ride.

Our ride revealed something of the river that Pete had not experienced from the boat, not the least of which were the aromas of an Austrian summer, the flowers and vineyards and apricots and farmland. The ride also revealed something about Pete, and about me as well: We were a long way from congealing. We had put ourselves in motion, made “new trysts with life,” and we were indeed very much alive.

See photos from our ride on River Cruise Advisor.

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Silver Explorer Arctic Adventure, Day 11: Stuck in Longyearbyen http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/21/silver-explorer-arctic-adventure-day-11-stuck-in-longyearbyen/ http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/21/silver-explorer-arctic-adventure-day-11-stuck-in-longyearbyen/#respond Tue, 21 Jul 2015 21:59:55 +0000 http://www.avidcruiser.com/?p=45618 Fog Shuts Down Svalbard…And Silversea Rises to the Challenge Sunday, July 12, 2015 This morning, guests aboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer disembarked our adventuresome expedition ship in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. We bid the crew – our friends – farewell. We shook hands. We descended the gangway. We left Silver Explorer, and our voyage, behind us –... [Read More]

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Fog Shuts Down Svalbard…And Silversea Rises to the Challenge
Stuck in the fog aboard Silver Explorer tonight. The fog has almost become an entity in its own right. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Stuck in the fog aboard Silver Explorer tonight. The fog has almost become an entity in its own right. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Sunday, July 12, 2015

This morning, guests aboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer disembarked our adventuresome expedition ship in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. We bid the crew – our friends – farewell. We shook hands. We descended the gangway. We left Silver Explorer, and our voyage, behind us – in the past.

Little did we know that six hours later, we’d be back onboard having lunch in The Restaurant.

Silversea provides every guest with a fantastic overview of their expedition...but our real adventure is just beginning! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silversea provides every guest with a fantastic overview of their expedition…but our real adventure is just beginning! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Following our tour of a foggy Longyearbyen, we made our way to the postage-stamp-sized Longyearbyen Airport. As we pulled up, some bad news: Expedition Team Member Kit came over the bus intercom to tell us our incoming charter SAS flight was delayed in Oslo by at least an hour.

Still, our hopes were buoyed when we came into the airport and were told by SAS staff that the flight “was expected to land any moment.” So, we got our boarding passes, checked our luggage, went through security, and waited.

Silversea gives disembarking guests a full tour of Longyearbyen before their transfer to the airport for their onward charter flight to Oslo. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silversea gives disembarking guests a full tour of Longyearbyen before their transfer to the airport for their onward charter flight to Oslo. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

For those who think I have a dream job, consider this: I’m supposed to be in Amsterdam tonight for a river cruise that embarks tomorrow, for 15 nights on the Danube. So I used my time at the airport to access the internet and start looking at my options. I figure my hotel stay in Amsterdam can get scrapped; it’s looking unlikely I’ll make my connecting KLM flight. I hit cancel just as Expedition Team member Kit magically came over the airport’s PA system.

Longyearbyen used to be a big mining town...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Longyearbyen used to be a big mining town…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...used to be. This equipment was left here when the mine shut down in the 1980's, and hasn't moved since. I'm endlessly fascinated with this place. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…used to be. This equipment was left here when the mine shut down in the 1980’s, and hasn’t moved since. I’m endlessly fascinated with this place. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

More abandoned mining operations. Because of the age of the building, the entire site is protected as a National Historic Site of Svalbard. It'll remain here forever. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

More abandoned mining operations. Because of the age of the building, the entire site is protected as a National Historic Site of Svalbard. It’ll remain here forever. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Longyearbyen almost doesn't seem real, like something out of a video game or a science fiction movie. And we get to spend some unexpected time here. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Longyearbyen almost doesn’t seem real, like something out of a video game or a science fiction movie. And we get to spend some unexpected time here. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The inbound charter flight had been diverted to Tromso because of the heavy fog here in Longyearbyen. At best, it would make it here with a six-hour delay, meaning the earliest we could possibly get out would be 6:00 p.m. It was announced that we’d be leaving the airport, claiming our luggage, and returning to the ship – where lunch was prepared and waiting for us.

Now, Longyearbyen is a cute town. But it’s like the cute town that time forgot. And given the harsh polar climates, sometimes the thinking of the locals in places like this ain’t quite right. This was the case at Longyearbyen Airport, where they’d pulled half of the guests’ luggage from the belt and had sat it on the floor. I found my grey Hey’s hard sided case waiting for me, but numerous guests weren’t so lucky.

It is said that no one is born or dies on Svalbard. Expectant mothers almost always fly to the mainland to give birth, while bodies cannot be buried here anymore due to the permafrost. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It is said that no one is born or dies on Svalbard. Expectant mothers almost always fly to the mainland to give birth, while bodies cannot be buried here anymore due to the permafrost. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Useful in the winter, less so in the summer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Useful in the winter, less so in the summer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Large blocks of dormatory-style apartments make up the bulk of homes in Longyearbyen. Colours are not chosen randomly; the city has approval over all exterior colours, which must match the earth-tones of the land. Green, seen here, isn't allowed any more on new buildings. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Large blocks of dormatory-style apartments make up the bulk of homes in Longyearbyen. Colours are not chosen randomly; the city has approval over all exterior colours, which must match the earth-tones of the land. Green, seen here, isn’t allowed any more on new buildings. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Thirty or so of us got on the first bus transfer back to the ship. The Silver Explorer is literally down the hill from the airport – but we can’t walk there. Why not? We’re in polar bear country, of course! And as the airport is technically outside the city limits, you need a gun in order to walk the three kilometres that separate ship and airport.

The other sixty or so…not so lucky. Their luggage took over an hour to come off the belt. And what was the issue causing this massive delay? Someone forgot to turn it on. Follow me, if you will, as I hum the first few bars of the theme to Deliverance.

Coach tour to the end of the Earth! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Coach tour to the end of the Earth! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

We, meanwhile, returned to the ship and enjoyed cocktails in the Panorama Lounge before Executive Chef Pia made us a nice welcome lunch – that was, of course, intended for the embarking guests but which was moved up time-wise so we could enjoy it. And here I though lunch would be an expensive can of Pringles potato chips on SAS!

While we’re doing all this, Expedition Leader Juan came over the PA with some bad news: the flight from Oslo has been cancelled, so our departure from Longyearbyen was scrapped for the day. We’d be spending the night onboard Silver Explorer.

For the guests, this is a huge win. For the crew – this is a nightmare.

The only traffic sign in the world to sport a black background: polar bears are possible from this point on. Guns must be carried. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The only traffic sign in the world to sport a black background: polar bears are possible from this point on. Guns must be carried. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Consider this: the entire accounting and passenger management system has to be re-programmed to fit in our special “voyage.” New keycards have to be printed, on short notice, for 102 guests. The luggage that was just offloaded this morning has to be trucked back here from the airport. The tide isn’t high enough to open the ship’s shell doors, meaning each piece has to be manually hauled up a steep gangway to the Deck 5 embarkation point. And Silversea guests have a lot of luggage.

The Expedition team, meanwhile, has to figure out what to do for the rest of the day to keep guests entertained and happy. They have to liaise with the ground operators to secure some kind of transportation for us, and contact Silversea headquarters as well as representatives from SAS to find out what will happen next with the charter flight.

The surprisingly-fabulous North Pole Expedition Museum in Longyearbyen...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The surprisingly-fabulous North Pole Expedition Museum in Longyearbyen…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...outlines the journeys of explorers like Roald Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen, and S.A. Andree. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…outlines the journeys of explorers like Roald Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen, and S.A. Andree. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Like Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen really got around in the early 1900's. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Like Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen really got around in the early 1900’s. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

For all his accomplishments - claiming the North and South Poles for Norway and discovering the Northwest Passage - Roald Amundsen went missing in the Arctic in 1928. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

For all his accomplishments – claiming the North and South Poles for Norway and discovering the Northwest Passage – Roald Amundsen went missing in the Arctic in 1928. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

A piece of fabric from S.A. Andree's (in)famous "Ice Balloon." Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

A piece of fabric from S.A. Andree’s (in)famous “Ice Balloon.” Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Butlers and suite attendants have to remove the personalized stationary, backpacks, polar jackets, specialized alcohol, and other amenities from the suites to return them to their original state.

We have pressures, too, of course. People have places to be, flights to catch, things to do. But I personally think they pale in comparison to what the crew have to go through now: a period of indecision and uncertainty. And uncertainty is sometimes a productivity and morale killer.

Police? Note the snowmobile tracks leading into the garage on the right. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Police? Note the snowmobile tracks leading into the garage on the right. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Aware that the lack of internet and phone service onboard the ship due to satellite connectivity posed an issue, Silversea arranged bus transportation into the center of Longyearbyen. The caveat: we’d have to leave at 5:30pm and proceed to our anchorage. So all aboard was set at 5:30p.m.

Still, that gave me two hours in town to send out as many emails as I could. I rebooked my KLM flight to Amsterdam for tomorrow evening and felt pretty secure in that decision. For $125 change fee, it’s a small price compared with purchasing a new ticket.

At 5:30pm, I returned on the last shuttle bus to the ship. I embarked, got my new keycard, and moved in to my old suite that I’d vacated this morning. It was an odd feeling, to be sure, to be back so soon.

Back Again! I return to Suite 704 shortly after lunch. It's a little odd to be back after you've left, but I can't complain. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Back Again! I return to Suite 704 shortly after lunch. It’s a little odd to be back after you’ve left, but I can’t complain. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Still, guests were in a jovial mood as we set sail to our overnight anchorage. I took my laptop to the lounge, ordered a beer, and sat down to write about our “series of unfortunate events.”

At 6:22pm, Expedition Leader Juan came over the public address system to deliver some more double-edged sword news: SAS has made the decision to cancel tomorrow’s flight to Oslo as well. The airline says the earliest they can get us out of Longyearbyen is Tuesday morning – but that it could be as late as Wednesday evening before we reach Oslo. This has some fairly adventurous consequences for yours truly, as I’m supposed to be in Amsterdam tomorrow for the start of my next voyage aboard a river cruise ship. That won’t be happening. The best I can hope for now is to join in Cologne on Wednesday – and how I will get there is still up in the air. But I see images of the John Candy movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles

New dinner menus were even printed - note the date and location. Silversea's Silver Explorer crew have worked themselves to the bone for us, and their dedication hasn't gone unnoticed.

New dinner menus were even printed – note the date and location. Silversea’s Silver Explorer crew have worked themselves to the bone for us, and their dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Back again. Bon appetite! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Back again. Bon appetite! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

However, the weather is the root cause of this. It cannot be helped, and Silversea is at the mercy of SAS and their ability to offer the Boeing 737 charter flight service to Oslo’s Gardermoen Airport. And this isn’t something SAS wants to get wrong; Norway’s worst-ever air disaster occurred in 1996 when a Russian Tupolev TU-154M crashed on approach to Longyearbyen Airport due to poor weather and crew disorientation.

Tomorrow, we will be at anchor here in Longyearbyen as there are no available berths for us. Imagine that! Longyearbyen – the town that typifies the phrase “barren wasteland” – is full with cruise ships tomorrow. Incredible!

Zodiacs continually carried crew members to and from shore throughout the night as they enjoyed some time off and worked to change flights by using the town's Wi-Fi. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Zodiacs continually carried crew members to and from shore throughout the night as they enjoyed some time off and worked to change flights by using the town’s Wi-Fi. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

So, Silversea will offer continuous shuttle service by zodiac to and from the Silver Explorer and Longyearbyen throughout the day tomorrow so guests can go ashore, do some shopping, and make use of local communications services.

Add to that another step the crew now have to do: print new daily programs for tomorrow. Re-stock suites with more toiletries. Re-set fruit baskets. The work required of them is ongoing and endless, and they are absolutely rising to the challenge in every conceivable way.

What’s interesting is how many guests have expressed concern for those who were supposed to embark today. We know this cuts down on their cruise, and that they are spending a few more unscheduled Radisson nights in Oslo. We’re very aware we’re getting the better end of this deal; it’s really no hardship to be “stuck” aboard a five-star luxury vessel for two more unscheduled nights.

But, the bar's still serving cocktails, so how bad off are we really? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

But, the bar’s still serving cocktails, so how bad off are we really? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silversea is also helping to assist guests who, like myself, rebooked their flights this afternoon. It’s very generous, and nice of them to do. I also think it’s appropriate – but I have no idea how they’ll do it. We have no internet or phone access. In town, only the airport and one café have Wi-Fi.

But the ones working the hardest are, as always the crew, including the Expedition Team. They, like us, had shifted gears this morning, preparing for another voyage. Another set of guests. Another hundred-odd names to memorize and faces to remember. Instead, they got this band of miscreants back for another round!

It's as quiet onboard Silver Explorer tonight as it is out on deck. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It’s as quiet onboard Silver Explorer tonight as it is out on deck. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

For me, I can’t complain. Sure, I’m worried about how I’ll get to my river cruise. I’m perturbed I can’t use the phone or the internet, and I have no idea whether I now need to fly to Amsterdam or Cologne, Germany. It’s going to cost me money – that much I know. But you know what? That’s life.

In a way, I am glad this has happened. I get to see firsthand what Silversea’s response to a major issue is. And I have to admit I am impressed: they’ve handled this Plan B (I hear Plan C is also in the works, in case) with the same grace and effortlessness that they conducted themselves over the past 10 days, working through confusion, exhaustion, and a lack of information from SAS.

We’re all in uncharted waters here – and we’re all in this together. So let’s see how Part 2 of our adventure goes!

Pea-soup. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Pea-soup. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer continues tomorrow with our unscheduled day in Longyearbyen! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

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Crystal Cruises: 3 New Ships, Plus, New River Cruisers, Entering Expedition Market http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/20/crystal-cruises-3-new-ships-plus-new-river-cruisers/ http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/20/crystal-cruises-3-new-ships-plus-new-river-cruisers/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 05:25:54 +0000 http://www.avidcruiser.com/?p=45613 Crystal Cruises is charting a new course, adding a luxury yacht in November this year, river cruise vessels in 2017, world trips on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner and three 1,000-passenger expedition vessels from Lloyd Werft, starting in 2018. The first Crystal Exclusive Class ocean vessel is to arrive in late 2018. Genting HK has signed... [Read More]

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Crystal Cruises is charting a new course, adding a luxury yacht in November this year, river cruise vessels in 2017, world trips on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner and three 1,000-passenger expedition vessels from Lloyd Werft, starting in 2018.

The first Crystal Exclusive Class ocean vessel is to arrive in late 2018. Genting HK has signed a letter of intent with Lloyd Werft in Bremerhaven to build polar-class vessels in excess of 100,000 gross tons that will allow Crystal to offer expedition-capable ships with all the signature features and amenities of a luxury ship or private yacht.

Read the full story in Seatrade Cruise News: Crystal plans 3 ocean newbuilds, and will branch into river, yacht, air sectors

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Tauck’s ms Savor: Danube Reflections, Day Three, Prague & A Diversion, Plus, My Loft Stateroom In Video http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/19/taucks-ms-savor-day-two-prague/ http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/19/taucks-ms-savor-day-two-prague/#respond Sun, 19 Jul 2015 20:52:03 +0000 http://www.avidcruiser.com/?p=45606 In progress: Two Live Voyage Reports, one from Ralph Grizzle traveling from Prague to Vienna, with seven days on Tauck’s ms Savor and the other from Aaron Saunders on a 15-day journey from Amsterdam to Budapest on Viking’s Vidar (with interruptions and changes along the way).  Some news today. We would not be going to... [Read More]

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In progress: Two Live Voyage Reports, one from Ralph Grizzle traveling from Prague to Vienna, with seven days on Tauck’s ms Savor and the other from Aaron Saunders on a 15-day journey from Amsterdam to Budapest on Viking’s Vidar (with interruptions and changes along the way). 

Some news today. We would not be going to Regensburg as planned. Following our morning tour of Prague and lunch, we were supposed to board motorcoaches at 1:30 p.m. for our transfer to Regensburg, a little less than four hours away.

Low water, however, made embarking ms Savor in Regensburg risky. Our ship could be stuck there, we were told, because of the low water level of the river. The captain wisely decided to reposition ms Savor downriver of Passau, where we would embark before ms Savor proceeded even farther downstream to overnight in what was little more than a dock on the river banks.

That fact that Engelhartzell doesn’t offer much to river cruise passengers made for some disappointment among the guests, though all I spoke with were understanding that it was Mother Nature who had the upper hand. We could only go with the flow, figuratively, and in this case, quite literally too.

To those who think that the rivers of Europe are not becoming congested, think again. Yes, your ship may be able to find a place to dock, but that place may be like ours would be tonight, not in the intended destination, and not even in a city.

We would be 15 miles from Passau, which also would add time to the excursions on Saturday to Nuremberg and Regensburg. The excursion to Nuremberg would now require three hours each way, instead of 2.5, by motorcoach, six hours roundtrip instead of five. Still, Tauck handled this unfortunate situation well. In fact, as I write this my colleague Aaron Saunders is packing his bags to swap Viking ships because of low water between Nuremberg and Passau.

Our Morning Tour

View from Prague Castle. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

View from Prague Castle. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

Back to our morning. After checking out of the InterContinental Prague (my Cold War spy movie hotel), we boarded a motorcoach to Prague’s Loreto District, where we’d begin a walking tour. We stopped to visit the Loreto Sanctuary and made our way through charming neighborhoods to the massive complex that is known as Prague Castle. Our tour included tickets to go inside St. Vitus Cathedral, which dates back to the 9th century and features nearly every architectural style of the past 1,000 years.

St. Vitus Cathedral

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert, a Roman Catholic cathedral that is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague. Up to 1997, the cathedral was dedicated only to Saint Vitus and is still commonly named only as St. Vitus Cathedral. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

Prague Castle

Within the Prague Castle complex. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

For lunch, our Tauck tour director Sinead gave each of us 500 Czech Koruna (about US$20) so that we could go out and have lunch on our own. I’ve never experienced this on a trip, and I was delighted to take the note and trot off in search of lunch. I found a French festival taking place under the Charles Bridge, where I had a nice lunch with money left over. Think about it. Tauck gave more than 120 people $20 each. That’s incredible. I’ve since taken to calling Sinead, SineATM.

Czech note

Tauck’s tour directors gave us 500 Czech Koruna for lunch (about US$20). © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

We boarded motorcoaches after lunch and made our way to ms Savor, which we boarded at around 6 p.m. I was pleased to open the door to my Loft stateroom on deck one.

My Loft Stateroom On ms Savor

loft stateroom on ms savor

Another view of my loft stateroom on ms Savor. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

Tauck’s ms Savor features eight category 3 Loft cabins on deck one. These innovative cabins are super spacious. They measure 225 square feet each, which is huge by river cruise standards. The Loft cabins are not the largest on ms Savor, but by comparison, the river cruiser’s standard staterooms measure 150 square feet.

I like the way the loft separates the sitting area and the sleeping area. With a table for two, the loft component makes for a cozy configuration. Four steps lead up to the elevated platform with its floor-to-ceiling window and high ceiling. Horizontal sheer curtains lower to allow light to filter in with some degree of privacy. Black out curtains assure total privacy.

loft stateroom ms savor

My loft stateroom on ms Savor. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

The curtains are operated by controls conveniently positioned by the bed and on the loft itself. Raise the sheer curtains with the push of a button and press another button to raise the middle section of the window. The result? A cleverly designed open-air balcony.

The loft cabins feature sumptuous bedding with fine linens, in-room movies, mini-bars that are restocked daily with water and soft drinks, coffee makers with Nespresso pods, an iPhone docking station, plenty of 110 and 220 receptacles, climate-control that is easy to operate, and spacious marble bathrooms with rainfall shower heads and luxury toiletries (Molton Brown on my sailing).

bathroom on ms savor

Spacious marble bathroom in my loft stateroom on ms Savor. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

I like the Loft cabins for there amenities and their spaciousness, and the fact that the window opens to allow for unobstructed views of the beautiful sights along the rivers of Europe.

When I consider the way Tauck handled the low-water situation, gave us money for lunch on our own and my cozy stateroom, I’ll repeat what I said on day one: I’m impressed.

Follow my 12-day trip from Prague to Vienna on Tauck’s ms Savor. I’ll be posting daily from July 15 through July 26 on River Cruise Advisor, @avidcruiser, Facebook and Instagram. Click. View. Cruise with me. 

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Barging In The South Of France: CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie, Day 10, Our Trip Comes To An End, Wrapping Up http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/15/barging-in-the-south-of-france-croisieuropes-anne-marie-day-10-our-trip-comes-to-an-end/ http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/15/barging-in-the-south-of-france-croisieuropes-anne-marie-day-10-our-trip-comes-to-an-end/#respond Wed, 15 Jul 2015 17:09:32 +0000 http://www.avidcruiser.com/?p=45483 My barge trip from Arles to Sete took place on CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie June 17 through June 26, with pre- and post-trip overnights and activities. This post picks up on day 10, the last day of our adventure, June 26 Often I find that good trips become better in retrospect. I reflect on one particular moment, and I... [Read More]

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Enjoying our cooking class in Sete. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

Enjoying our cooking class in Sete. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

My barge trip from Arles to Sete took place on CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie June 17 through June 26, with pre- and post-trip overnights and activities. This post picks up on day 10, the last day of our adventure, June 26

Often I find that good trips become better in retrospect. I reflect on one particular moment, and I long to be back in that moment. I remember, for example, sitting in Frontignan’s town square among French families and couples enjoying late-evening karaoke outdoors. That moment was not scripted into our trip, as were the many tours that I also enjoyed. We had simply walked into town on an impulse after dinner. Sitting in that square with a glass of wine, listening to a young girl perform “La Vie En Rose,” well, life doesn’t get any better than that.

During each of our ten days traveling in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, I knew there would be moments I would remember long after I returned home: an exquisite lunch in Chateauneuf du Pape; marveling at the Roman arena in Arles; a hay ride through olive groves — I could go on.

If permitted to use a metaphor, I would say that like a good red wine, our trip in the south of France grows better as it breathes. The aroma becomes intense and each sip presents the palate with something that is full-bodied and delicious to the very last drop.

I will need moments of tranquility and joy to reflect on. We all need them. In my busy life back home, I am continually looking for tools to subdue stress. I seek out methods to combat the barrage of activity that forces agendas on me. There are many philosophers who emphasize the importance of living in the now as a means of eliminating the anxiety that too much to do creates. For me, though, it helps to live in the past, to immerse myself in those moments that brought such joy, or as they say in France, la joie de vivre. Following are a few of those memories.

Barging In The South Of France: CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie, Day 1, Arriving In Arles, Almost

Sunset on the Rhone in Arles. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

Sunset on the Rhone in Arles. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

See the beautiful photograph above? That is where I would be about right now, on a Tuesday evening, taking a walk along the river after having washed down a bowl of moules-frites with a glass of rosé from Provence.

Instead, I am Washington, D.C. sipping on a Starbucks Cafe Latte and preparing for a flight to Brussels that will connect me with Marseille. Once in Marseille, I’ll pick up a rental car and drive to Arles, arriving (hopefully) around mid-afternoon on Wednesday.

I wasn’t alone in travel disruptions this week. A series of storms along the East Coast of the United States made travel a tempest. The storms are still brewing. Already, I can see that my Washington to Brussels flight is delayed, but only by 15 minutes at this point.

I made a few mistakes yesterday. Here’s what I would do differently next time. [Read More]


Barging In The South Of France: CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie, Day 2, A Surprise Trip To Uzes

In my previous post about our barge trip from Arles to Sete, I wrote about missed connections and lessons learned when flying transatlantic from the United States to Europe. The challenges that the airports (particularly the U.S. airports) throw at us can be disheartening. Of course, Mother Nature plays a role, especially during the hot summer that we’re having, which makes for more frequent thunderstorms than under milder conditions and, correspondingly, delayed flights. The lesson: Plan accordingly and be prepared for interruptions to your trip.

And so it goes that I made it to Arles a day late and a few hundred dollars poorer (because of a hotel room I had to pay for in the U.S.). It is lovely to be in Arles, though, well worth the minor hassles that airports and delays pose.

I arrived around mid-afternoon yesterday and checked in to the Hôtel Jules Cesar, a five-star property housed in a former convent dating back to the 17th century. Our group would be here for two nights before boarding Anne-Marie on Friday. [Read More]


Barging In The South Of France: CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie, Day 3, Avignon, Chateauneuf du Pape, Pont du Gard

Following yesterday’s surprise trip to Uzes, we set out this morning for a full day of exploring Avignon & Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We were to have visited Pont du Gard, but we managed to do that yesterday as well. In hindsight, it may have been too much to do Avignon and Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Pont du Gard in one day, so today the pace was more relaxed than it might have been otherwise. With an adventure ahead of us, we stepped aboard our two vans and headed, with our guide Catherine, to Avignon.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Avignon’s medieval walled city has a fascinating story to tell, from its impressive Pope’s Palace that was once the seat of Catholicism to a bridge that has captured the imagination of millions of people over the ages. [Read More]


Barging In The South Of France: CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie, Day 4, Arles & Gallician

Late yesterday, after a full day tour of Avignon and Chateauneuf du Pape, we boarded Anne-Marie, which was docked in Arles (pronounced Arl). We enjoyed a restful overnight on board, and following breakfast this morning, we headed out to the countryside to learn about olive oil production in Provence and to taste some of the local products.

The highlight of the morning tour was our transport once we got to the farm. We stepped on board a trailer pulled by a tractor and sat on bales of hay for a 15-minute or so ride through olive groves. Through our guide Peggy, we learned that the olive groves benefitted from the mistral, the strong northwesterly wind that blows through the Rhône valley. The mistral keeps insects from damaging the olives. Indeed, the wind had been exceptionally strong last night in Arles, and thankfully, had settled some today. [Read More]


Barging In The South Of France: CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie, Day 5, Gallician & Aigues-Mortes

After a beautiful sunset last night in Gallician, our morning aboard Anne-Marie started with breakfast, followed by an included excursion to the Camargue. As the largest river delta within the entire continent of Europe, the Camargue is wrapped within both arms of the Rhône river and hugged by the Mediterranean sea in the south. So abundant is the nature here that UNESCO named the Camargue a World Heritage Site, as well as a biosphere reserve, in the hopes of protecting its incredibly delicate ecosystem, especially within its natural park, the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue. [Read More]


Barging In The South Of France: CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie, Day 6, Aigues Mortes & Palavas-les-Flots

After exploring the Camargue yesterday, I woke up to a still calm on the canal this morning as Anne-Marie had docked overnight in Aigues-Mortes. I peeked outside my stateroom window to reveal a basin of water so flat that it appeared glass-like. The houses on the shoreline reflected in the canal. The canal’s beauty and its gentle rhythm make for easy starts to our days. Here, there is no rush, no pressure. One of our group gave a toast on the first night of our trip that essentially said, “Let’s live in this moment, in the now, together,” and we all seem to be embracing that, enjoying the stillness of time and sense of togetherness on our little Anne-Marie. [Read More]


Barging In The South Of France: CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie, Day 7, Palavas-les-Flotes & Sete

I never knew there were cowboys in the south of France, but indeed there are. They may not wear the broad-brimmed Stetsons that top the heads of North American cowboys and the French cowboys (known as guardians) don’t amble along bow-legged from hours in the saddle, but they do have a kinship with their brethren in the American West: They both herd cattle.

This morning we were back in the Camargue, not far from Aigues-Mortes, to learn more about the cattle here and to watch cowboys at work. Our visit took us once again on a hay ride, just like on day four of our trip. We headed out past vineyards to pastures where the cattle grazed and returned to a roundup demonstration and, of course, a wine-tasting, just like on any ranch worthy of its name in the south of France. Here is our day in photos.  [Read More]


Barging In The South Of France: CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie, Day 8, Exploring Sete

© 2015 Ralph GrizzleAs noted in yesterday’s post, this morning we have a special tour ahead of us. This tour is not offered by CroisiEurope; rather it’s something I set up for our group: a Gourmet Walking Tour that will allow us to explore Sete’s colorful markets and a few of the food outlets that serve up regional specialities. Of course, there will be a wine-tasting at the end of the tour. C’est la vie. In the afternoon, we’ll head out for an oyster sampling along the Étang de Thau. [Read More]


Barging In The South Of France: CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie, Day 9, Montpelier

This morning we said our farewells to the crew of Anne-Marie. I can’t praise them enough for all that they did for us, from welcoming us on board, to preparing delicious meals for us, to taking care of our rooms, to preparing the bicycles when we felt like pedaling. They were present and engaged, and, as often happens, among us there was some discussion about gratuities. How could we show our appreciation of the crew? We agreed on 10 euros per day per person, which we placed in individual envelopes at left at the bar. Zoltan had told us the evening before that the gratuities are shared evenly among the crew. [Read More]

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Silver Explorer Arctic Adventure, Day 10: Ny London http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/11/silver-explorer-arctic-adventure-day-10-ny-london/ http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/11/silver-explorer-arctic-adventure-day-10-ny-london/#respond Sat, 11 Jul 2015 18:28:26 +0000 http://www.avidcruiser.com/?p=44162 The Ghosts of the Arctic Saturday, July 11, 2015 It’s difficult to believe, but today is to be our last full day of adventure aboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer as our 10-night Arctic Svalbard cruise sadly comes to a close. Fortunately, the Expedition Team has developed one last, active day for us to go out... [Read More]

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The Ghosts of the Arctic
Today, we got a look at the ghosts of the Arctic at the small (abandoned) outpost of Ny London. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Today, we got a look at the ghosts of the Arctic at the small (largely abandoned) outpost of Ny London. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Saturday, July 11, 2015

It’s difficult to believe, but today is to be our last full day of adventure aboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer as our 10-night Arctic Svalbard cruise sadly comes to a close. Fortunately, the Expedition Team has developed one last, active day for us to go out with a bang.

Ny London (pronounced nee London), our first “port” of call, was established in 1911 as a marble mining quarry by the Northern Exploration Company based in England. Things apparently didn’t work out too well in the ol’ marble business: by 1920, the site had been abandoned, leaving behind plenty of Victorian-era infrastructure like steam cranes, winches, locomotives, boilers…you name it.

Before we went ashore, it was time to pack up...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Before we went ashore, it was time to pack up…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...with my freshly-cleaned suitcase. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…with my freshly-cleaned suitcase. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This morning, we made a nicely sized walk of the area to study the ruins, the geology, and the geography of Ny London. Led by Expedition Team member Daniel, we were able to study some of the ruinous equipment up-close. Silversea practices responsible tourism, and asks that guests not touch or interfere with these so that future visitors can enjoy the same sights.

In the 93 years since its abandonment, Mother Nature has done a good job of reclaiming her land. The remaining wooden structures are, for the most part, dilapidated, worn down by the endless polar winters and the ceaseless glare of the Midnight Sun. Humans have also left their mark, too: the small hut at the base of the island is still used by visitors and researchers, some of whom come over from nearby Ny Alesund (which is, I should mention, extraordinarily different from Alesund on the western coast of Norway.)

Some photos of our great morning ashore:

Approaching Ny London...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Approaching Ny London…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and coming ashore from our Zodiac rafts. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…and coming ashore from our Zodiac rafts. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Expedition Team member Daniel - whom I sailed with in the Galapagos - explains Ny London's history to us. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Expedition Team member Daniel – whom I sailed with in the Galapagos – explains Ny London’s history to us. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Aha! My chair has arrived! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Aha! My chair has arrived! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Old, turn-of-the-century machinery still dots the landscape here. Expensive to bring in, it was more expensive to ship out when mining operations folded. here. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Old, turn-of-the-century machinery still dots the landscape here. Expensive to bring in, it was more expensive to ship out when mining operations folded. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silversea Expeditions are just that: real expeditions, in the grand tradition fo explorers like Amundsen, Nansen and Scott. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silversea Expeditions are just that: real expeditions, in the grand tradition fo explorers like Amundsen, Nansen and Scott. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Industrial Waste in NY London. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Industrial Waste in Ny London. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The Earth reclaims all. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The Earth reclaims all. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Old, Victorian-era machinery was all manufactured in England and shipped up to Ny London. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Old, Victorian-era machinery was all manufactured in England and shipped up to Ny London. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The desolate landscape of Ny London. It's hard to believe that, at one time, hundreds of people lived here. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The desolate landscape of Ny London. It’s hard to believe that, at one time, hundreds of people lived here. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Bear Guard Chris on alert. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Bear Guard Chris on alert. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The rest of our group, still milling about the century-old machinery. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The rest of our group, still milling about the century-old machinery. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests admire the view from Ny London...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests admire the view from Ny London…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...along with the crew of the Silver Explorer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…along with the crew of the Silver Explorer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Walking across the earth, the shale rock made a noise like breaking glass when you stepped on it. Eerie. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Walking across the earth, the shale rock made a noise like breaking glass when you stepped on it. Eerie. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Even here, in this desolate nothingness...life shines through. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Even here, in this desolate nothingness…life shines through. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

More Victorian-era "junk"... Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

More Victorian-era “junk”… Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...make our way back to the Zodiacs and the waiting Silver Explorer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…make our way back to the Zodiacs and the waiting Silver Explorer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

What is truly remarkable about life here in the Arctic is how quickly and dramatically the weather changed. This morning, I needed sunscreen and only a light jacket which I unzipped shortly after getting off the Zodiac raft. Temperatures hovered around 10°C. For the Arctic, it was positively balmy.

During lunch, we abruptly found ourselves surrounded by thick fog as we made our way to the 14th of July Glacier – named in recognition of Bastille Day in France.

With foggy conditions persisting, our adventures ashore looked questionable and in-doubt. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

With foggy conditions persisting, our adventures ashore looked questionable and in-doubt. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Fortunately, a gap in the fog occurred...and we set out to explore the 14th of July Glacier! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Fortunately, a gap in the fog occurred…and we set out to explore the 14th of July Glacier! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Fog, as we’ve now come to know, is the enemy of expedition cruising in Antarctica due to its ability conceal polar bears. So it was not really much of a surprise when Expedition Team Leader Juan came over the public address to announce that’d we’d be changing our plans slighty.

Once again, the flexible nature of expedition cruising with Silversea revealed itself to be a huge advantage. The consensus from Juan and the other Expedition Team members: we’d wait it out to see if the fog dispersed.

And within an hour, it had – just enough for the team aboard Silver Explorer to begin conducting shore operations.

This was a proper hike in every respect, with tough terrain...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This was a proper hike in every respect, with tough terrain…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and steep inclines. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…and steep inclines. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Really steep inclines! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Really steep inclines! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I have to be honest: I really didn’t think that fog was going to lift. Yet it did, and by 3:00 p.m., the first boat with guests was headed ashore.

Our options for this afternoon: take part in a very active hike up to the 14th of July Glacier to admire the ice up-close; or do a smaller, more accessible Arctic Tundra Walk. I elected to do the hike to the glacier – and I wasn’t disappointed!

First of all, Silversea is being very genuine when they describe this as “moderate to strenuous.” It is. The total distance is probably about two miles or so, with steep uphill sections and plenty of loose rock and earth. But I was impressed at how many guests rose to the challenge and participated in this hike; I’d love to see Silversea offer a bit more on-shore activities in the Arctic that are like this.

Our reward for our steady-paced hike to the top: being able to stand on the glacier (within the flagged area that had already been designated as safe by the Expedition Team) and watch as massive slabs of the 14th of July Glacier calved into the sea.

Some photos of our exciting afternoon that nearly wasn’t:

We close in on the 14th of July Glacier in Arctic Svalbard. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

We close in on the 14th of July Glacier in Arctic Svalbard. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The first guests finally arrive on the glacier... Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The first guests finally arrive on the glacier… Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...while other still negotiate the tricky terrain. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…while other still negotiate the tricky terrain. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The general consensus among guests was that this was the perfect ending to this voyage. I didn’t make that up; half a dozen people have said that very thing to me since I came back onboard shortly after 4:30 p.m.

Of course, it’s relaxing to know that we have one last evening here onboard the beautiful Silver Explorer. Tomorrow, we’ll arrive in Longyearbyen, Svalbard where we will sadly disembark our floating expedition ship that has been our home for the past 10 days. But even here, the adventure continues: we’ll be taken on a guided tour of Longyearbyen and given entrance to the town museum before we head to the postage-stamp-sized airport for our charter flight on Scandinavian Airlines to Oslo.

Our final destination: the 14th July Glacier. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our final destination: the 14th July Glacier. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Calving! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Calving! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

That in itself is important to note: all guests doing embarking or disembarking in Longyearbyen have to purchase Silversea’s Air Charter Package that includes a flight from Longyearbyen to Oslo, or reverse. You can still book your own flights independently, but the fact remains that charter air is essential here in Longyearbyen.

Because our charter flight arrives at 4:25pm tomorrow afternoon in Oslo, most guests are spending the evening at the Radisson Blu Oslo Airport hotel, which is utilised by Silversea for these return journeys.

Guests from the Silver Explorer make their way back down from the 14th July Glacier. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests from the Silver Explorer make their way back down from the 14th July Glacier. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I myself will board a KLM jet a few hours later, bound for Amsterdam and my next adventure. Still, after 10 days in the beautiful solitude of the Arctic, I’m not sure how I will adjust to the lights, sounds, smells and people that will no doubt assault my senses once I land at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.

Maybe that’s the best thing about Silversea’s expedition cruises: they lure you out of your familiar world and drop you into one that’s wholly different.

Seven years ago, Silversea took a chance when they purchased the vessel that would become Silver Explorer. It was their first foray into luxury expedition cruising and aside from Hapag-Lloyd (which catered primarily to the German-speaking market), Silversea was one of the only lines in the world to offer luxury expedition cruises on a year-round basis.

Heading back one last time to our Zodiacs - and the Silver Explorer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Heading back one last time to our Zodiacs – and the Silver Explorer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Now, in 2015, Silversea has three luxury expedition ships: Silver Explorer, Silver Discoverer, and Silver Galapagos. I’ve sailed on all three. All three are good in their own right – even Silver Galapagos, which is currently doing a decent job of matching the need for Silversea’s little luxuries with the strict regulations and rules that govern operations in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.

There is, however, something really special about Silver Explorer. She’s not cold and impersonal, nor is she overly glitzy and ostentatious. Her accommodations are wonderful, her public rooms understated. Guests onboard literally want for nothing, from fine wines to excellent food.

This afternoon, I attempted to relax by watching "Get Hard"...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This afternoon, I attempted to relax by watching “Get Hard”…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...while enjoing canapes...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…while enjoying canapes…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and tea. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…and tea. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The other thing I love about Silversea’s expedition voyages: the guests. They’re just so darn nice and interesting – and, like me, interested in the world. I’ve never heard so many people talk about expeditions in my life. People are talking about their trips to Antarctica – the first, the second, the third. Their voyages through Greenland. Their journeys along Franz Josef Land. That time they explored the west coast of Africa. Pardon the crass reference, but that’s a huge travelling turn-on.

What’s more, guests seem to be booking their next ones right here onboard in droves – and for many who are experiencing their first polar voyage, the next one can only be one thing: Antarctica. For me, this is the perfect complement to my first polar voyage in Antarctica back in January. I’ll take a look at both destinations tomorrow and outline the pros and cons of each.

Cocktail hour! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Cocktail hour! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silversea’s true strength, however, is the people they employ. Without the Expedition Team and the fabulous crew, Silver Explorer would just be a rugged, well-built ship. But it’s the crew that bring her to life. People don’t say to me that they sail with Silversea because they like the marble bathrooms and the Ferragamo toiletries. They do, of course, but they don’t say so. Ditto for the nine different types of pillows, or the well-stocked library or the multitude of premium beverages that are included in the cost of your voyage.

The one thing people do mention to me all the time? The crew. The Expedition Team. How good they both are at their jobs. How well this ship runs. How effortless it all looks.

I couldn’t agree more.

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer has sadly come to a close, but tune in tomorrow for our Voyage Recap of our Arctic Adventure! Be sure to follow along on Twitter @deckchairblog.

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Silver Explorer Arctic Adventure, Day 9: Polar Bear Hunting http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/10/silver-explorer-arctic-adventure-day-9-polar-bear-hunting/ http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/10/silver-explorer-arctic-adventure-day-9-polar-bear-hunting/#respond Fri, 10 Jul 2015 18:26:57 +0000 http://www.avidcruiser.com/?p=44160 Nanook of the North Friday, July 10, 2015 This morning, I awoke at 6:45 a.m. to discover Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer was stopped in the middle of the ocean. Surrounded by fog with a visibility of maybe half a kilometre on either side of the ship, I figured this morning’s scenic cruising was scratched. At... [Read More]

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Nanook of the North
Polar bear! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Polar bear! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Friday, July 10, 2015

This morning, I awoke at 6:45 a.m. to discover Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer was stopped in the middle of the ocean. Surrounded by fog with a visibility of maybe half a kilometre on either side of the ship, I figured this morning’s scenic cruising was scratched.

At breakfast, the fog lifted. We could see the shore, but it was off in the distance. We were sailing in the middle of the channel in a wide, expansive fjord bookended once again by the ubiquitous snow-covered hills and mountains that have become the staple scenery of our Arctic expedition.

Entering the misty fjord known as Woodfjorden early this morning, in hunt of the elusive Polar Bear. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Entering the misty fjord known as Woodfjorden early this morning, in hunt of the elusive Polar Bear. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

As I chatted with some other guests at breakfast, I noticed we were moving, but just barely. Calling our forward motion two knots would have been generous. With nothing to really miss, scenery wise, outside, I figured our chances of reaching Longyearbyen with our livers intact had just dropped considerably.

Just as breakfast was wrapping up around 10:00 a.m, Silver Explorer’s screws started to kick over. The dining room shook and my cup of coffee rattled noisily on its saucer. We were clearly pouring on the speed for something. The Bloody Mary’s would have to wait.

With a bear sighted on a nearby island, Silver Explorer's Zodiacs were quickly lowered to the water. Guests embarked shortly after, and we were off! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

With a bear sighted on a nearby island, Silver Explorer’s Zodiacs were quickly lowered to the water. Guests embarked shortly after, and we were off! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Ten minutes later, Expedition Leader Juan came over the public address system: the scout boat had spotted a polar bear, about half an hour’s cruising ahead of us. Plans immediately changed: we’d proceed directly to the spot and drop our Zodiac rafts in the water for a closer look. Disembarkation would be collective, but staggered by group number to ensure crowding isn’t an issue. Group 1 would be called at 11:00 a.m., followed immediately thereafter by groups 2, 3 and 4.

Commanding my Group 4 Zodiac: Expedition Team member Kate and her cool-blue sunglasses. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Commanding my Group 4 Zodiac: Expedition Team member Kate and her cool blue sunglasses. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Humans have an interesting history with polar bears. In many First Nations cultures in Arctic Canada, the polar bear is considered a sacred, almost sentient being. It’s often referred to in Inuit culture as Nanook. Here in Svalbard, the Norwegians would call it Isbjørn – the Ice Bear.

Early Arctic explorers, eager to get away from their miserable diets of pemmican and salt pork, would hunt polar bears as a food source. Nowadays, at Christmas time, Coca-Cola shows them in advertisements as cute, cuddly dwellers of the north, hanging back and popping the cap off of a cool, refreshing bottle of Coke.

Within minutes, we were zipping along at a considerable pace, eager to make it to the Polar Bear before it disappeared. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Within minutes, we were zipping along at a considerable pace, eager to make it to the Polar Bear before it disappeared. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Unlike the Antarctic penguin, which is as docile, cute and cuddly as you might well expect, the polar bear is really not an animal you want to see unless viewed from a safe distance. While it may lumber along slowly, it can run at speeds topping 40 km/h (25 mph). In the frigid water that would mean almost certain death for humans from hypothermia, it propels itself along at 10 km/h (6 mph).

Polar bears are predatory hunters. They are fearless in their interactions with humans, and are typically hungry. And that makes us a tasty snack moving clumsily around in red jackets. We fall down. We can’t survive in the water, and we certainly can’t walk in ice floes. We are, as the saying goes, low-hanging fruit.

"Hunting" a polar bear is a tricky thing, though. It requires a lot of time and patience. Guests were urged to whisper to each other and not make any undue noise. I loved it - it's like being on safari in the Arctic. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

“Hunting” a polar bear is a tricky thing, though. It requires a lot of time and patience. Guests were urged to whisper to each other and not make any undue noise. I loved it – it’s like being on safari in the Arctic. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

On the hunt...and then...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

A guest on the hunt…and then…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...Polar Bear! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…Polar Bear! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Now, obviously Silversea takes all necessary precautions around polar bears, and I have been impressed at the level of skill, knowledge, and preparedness our Bear Guards have. But I fear their cautionary tales haven’t quite filtered down to the majority of the guests who are, understandably, hell-bent on seeing a polar bear. I’m quite happy to see one from a distance on a Zodiac, or from the ship as I sip a cocktail. I do not, under any circumstances, wish to run into one on land!

Our excursion to see the bears – two of them, on two separate pieces of land – was nothing short of astonishing. I have to admit: I didn’t come here to see the polar bear. I came to see the desolate, astonishing, and quite often beautiful landscape of the High Arctic. But having said that, there is something magical about seeing a polar bear in its natural habitat.

At last: our first Polar Bear in the Arctic! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

At last: our first Polar Bear in the Arctic! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I can see why the Inuit peoples from Canada to Greenland and beyond felt that these bears were spiritual. They move in a certain way. They crane their necks, which are rather long, in a way that most bears can’t. A grizzly bear, for example, really has very little neck to speak of. But the polar bear is adapted well to its environment: its neck is elongated so it can snap at seals that come out of deep recesses in the ice.

But the polar bear’s almost humanlike movements have another interesting parallel: like early Arctic explorers, starvation is a constant threat. A polar bear – particularly a mother polar bear nursing young cubs – needs an extraordinary diet in order to sustain itself. The reduction in sea ice due to climate change has resulted in bears travelling further than they might typically have to find food; this has led to several documented cases of polar bears actually drowning in their attempts to reach pack ice or shore.

The polar bear is moderately endangered – and that makes our sighting today all the more special.

Some pictures of our incredible morning:

Alternating places with other zodiacs to ensure that all guests had a good view, we tracked this polar bear for nearly an hour. All told, we were out in the elements for nearly three hours. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Alternating places with other zodiacs to ensure that all guests had a good view, we tracked this polar bear for nearly an hour. All told, we were out in the elements for nearly three hours. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Looking back towards the Silver Explorer at anchor. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Looking back towards the Silver Explorer at anchor. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Zodiacs were run quietly and a respectful distance was kept at all times. This is the one instance when I wish I'd had a telephoto lens. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Zodiacs were run quietly and a respectful distance was kept at all times. This is the one instance when I wish I’d had a telephoto lens. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Finally, we bid farewell to our polar friend...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Finally, we bid farewell to our polar friend…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and made our way back to the waiting...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…and made our way back to the waiting…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...Silver Explorer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…Silver Explorer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Because of our altered morning schedule and our extended touring, our plans for a Zodiac cruise in the afternoon were instead replaced by a visit to a nearby glacier so that guests could participate in the Polar Plunge.

The sun struggled to peek through the thick layers of fog, mist and cloud that obscured it, but managed to light up the events that took place on the port side of the ship. Interested guests could come down – so long as they didn’t have any pre-existing heart conditions – to the embarkation deck on Deck 3 in order to take part in this time-honoured tradition.

In the afternoon, we pulled up near a magnificent glacier...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

In the afternoon, we pulled up near a magnificent glacier…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...so guests could participate in the Polar Plunge. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…so guests could participate in the Polar Plunge. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Or a Polar Swim, if you like! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Or a Polar Swim, if you like! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

If you’re not familiar with it, the Polar Plunge is essentially a jump into frigid water. I’ve seen it done in Antarctica, and now here in the Arctic.

I didn’t do it myself, but I did celebrate being in the Arctic in my own special, icy way.

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

To me, today was expedition cruising at its finest: a complete reversal of previously-published plans in favor of an opportunity that presented itself. Our Expedition Team sighted a polar bear. That sighting was confirmed. The navigation team on the bridge came up with a plan of action. The able-bodied seaman dropped what they were doing to winch the Zodiac rafts down from their perch on Deck 7 into the sea. The Food & Beverage department tweaked the timing of lunch to accommodate our expected late arrival back to the vessel.

All of these things had to happen as a team; if any one faction said, “no – we stick with the plan”, our entire day would have fallen apart. Instead, the entire team here onboard Silver Explorer came up with a brand-new plan, on-the-spot, and implemented it for the benefit of their guests. That, to me, is the sign of a great expedition cruise.

Tonight, the Captain's Farewell Cocktail & Dinner were held. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Tonight, the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail & Dinner were held. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It gave guests a great chance to thank the crew of the Silver Explorer, all of whom have done so much for us. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It gave guests a great chance to thank the crew of the Silver Explorer, all of whom have done so much for us. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

After being trapped in the fog all day and well into the evening, we abruptly sailed out of it just before midnight. Like a car exiting a tunnel, the sudden brilliance of the sunlight abruptly blinded those of us having drinks in the Panorama Lounge.

As the clock rolled over to midnight, the most brilliant sun we’ve seen all trip shone brightly, illuminating the mountains off to our port side in shades of tinted amber. The sun never really sets here, but this was the closest we’ve gotten to “dusk” yet. And it was mesmerizing. It became almost impossible to pull myself away from it.

The view at Midnight: stunning! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The view at Midnight: stunning! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests in the Panorama Lounge come up with an innovative way to record...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests in the Panorama Lounge come up with an innovative way to record…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...the end of a very special day - and the beginning of another. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…the end of a very special day – and the beginning of another. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I watched the scenery from my suite for a long time. I went out onto the balcony and started snapping photos; exhausting one memory card and filling up part of another.

It was the final act in a day littered with surprises.

Dream. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Dream. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer continues tomorrow with one last day in the Arctic at Ny London! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

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Silver Explorer Arctic Adventure, Day 8: Fakesvagen, Svalbard http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/09/silver-explorer-arctic-adventure-day-8-fakesvagen-svalbard/ http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/09/silver-explorer-arctic-adventure-day-8-fakesvagen-svalbard/#respond Thu, 09 Jul 2015 15:06:21 +0000 http://www.avidcruiser.com/?p=44158 Arctic Wanderlust Thursday, July 9, 2015 On our third-last day aboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer, we were treated to several adventures – as we have been for the past week. In fact, embarkation in Tromso, Norway seems like a dream. It’s hard to reconcile with the fact that we’ve been onboard for a full week;... [Read More]

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Arctic Wanderlust
Today, we were treated to two very unique experiences in Svalbards' High Arctic. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Today, we were treated to two very unique experiences in Svalbards’ High Arctic. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Thursday, July 9, 2015

On our third-last day aboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer, we were treated to several adventures – as we have been for the past week. In fact, embarkation in Tromso, Norway seems like a dream. It’s hard to reconcile with the fact that we’ve been onboard for a full week; we’ve done and seen so much in such a short time that it almost defies explanation.

Bright skies greeted me this morning when I snapped open the curtains, and I was nearly able to stand on my suite balcony without a coat on. With blue skies, smooth seas and temperatures pushing well beyond 2°C (36°F), it’s positively balmy outside compared with the past few days that have hovered rather consistently around the freezing mark.

Silversea's sturdy Silver Explorer on a beautiful, sunny day. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silversea’s sturdy Silver Explorer on a beautiful, sunny day. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I am, as I have mentioned, a horrible creature of habit: I wake at roughly the same time every morning – 6:45 a.m. I shower, dress, and get ready for the day. Part of that day includes stepping outside my suite and collecting The Canadian – a small daily news snippet “newspaper” provided for each and every guest onboard, based on their nationality.

Expedition Team member Luke served as our Zodiac driver and guide extraordinaire this morning. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Expedition Team member Luke served as our Zodiac driver and guide extraordinaire this morning. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I then take my copy of The Canadian down the forward staircase to Deck 4, where I walk the length of the corridor to the midships lobby elevator. I hang a left, walk down the corridor past the Fitness Center and Gift Shop, and arrive at The Restaurant. I then get buffet breakfast, and one of my favorite waiters (they’re all my favorites) – usually Billy or Jerry – pours me a cup of coffee, a glass of water, and brings me some orange juice.

I catch up on the headlines. I eat breakfast. I relax. It’s a very civilised way to start the morning.

This morning, we set out on a Zodiac tour of the magnificent cliffs of Alkefjellet - home to some of the largest bird colonies on the island. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This morning, we set out on a Zodiac tour of the magnificent cliffs of Alkefjellet – home to some of the largest bird colonies on the island. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

At 8:15 a.m., I’m back up at my suite to put my Silversea Expeditions parka on, followed by my Zodiac life-vest, followed by my Silversea Expeditions backpack. I look like the Michelin Tire man by the time I’m done with it all!

Then I wait for Expedition Team Member Kate to call us down to Reception to disembark the vessel. She makes the call, and I once again walk down the forward staircase, this time to Deck 3. I cross the length of the passenger accommodations corridor and walk aft past the Reception Desk to the Mud Room.

Alkefjellet's breathtaking beauty. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Alkefjellet’s breathtaking beauty. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Check out this mountain. Can you see the different kinds of rock? The island is made up predominantly of basalt and limestone. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Check out this mountain. Can you see the different kinds of rock? The island is made up predominantly of basalt and limestone. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

If there’s one complaint I have about the Silver Explorer, it’s that the Mud Room is far too small. The Mud Room on Hurtigruten’s FRAM was cavernous by comparison, and featured racks with metal bars on them that were far easier to slip rubber boots onto than the shelf system that Silversea has – which is spaced just tightly enough that getting two rubber boots in is a challenge.

But hey, that’s nitpicking.

If you're scared of Alfred Hitchcock's movie, The Birds, stay away from Alkefjellet! There are literally thousands upon thousands of them. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

If you’re scared of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, stay away from Alkefjellet! There are literally thousands upon thousands of them. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Bird  Highrise Apartments. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Bird Highrise Apartments. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

At 8:30 a.m., I disembarked the Silver Explorer for our 75-minute long Zodiac cruise of the Alkefjellet Bird Cliffs on what has to be the most gorgeous morning since I arrived in Oslo last Wednesday.

To call these “bird cliffs” is an understatement. If you watched Alfred Hitchcock’s horror-masterpiece, The Birds, I have two words for you: be afraid. Alkefjellet is absolutely swarming with birds; when viewed against the brilliant blue sky, they look like locusts zipping through the air.

Expedition Team member Kit showcases a small jellyfish that the team caught, and later released. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Expedition Team member Kit showcases a small jellyfish that the team caught, and later released. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silver Explorer at anchor off Alkefjellet. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silver Explorer at anchor off Alkefjellet. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

But it is a breathtaking sight – birds zipping around above you. Birds literally falling off cliffs and fighting in the water. Birds nesting. In fact, there are so many birds here that it’s tough to tell that the entire cliff face is made up largely of basalt columns – painted with a thick layer of guano.

I’ll never come to understand how the Spanish word for sh*t became commonplace parlance, but so be it. Our Expedition Staff members describe it as guano, and guano it shall be. Speaking of, my history of questionable luck has clearly proceeded me: I got nailed square on the back with some kamikaze bird guano. It splashed back onto my backpack, camera, and Columbia thermal pants. I spent a joyous half-hour cleaning it all off once I made it back to my suite. At least I was wearing my hat…

With amazing weather like this... Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

With amazing weather like this… Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...who wants to eat outside? Especially considering German Chef Pia served up some typically German specialties! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…who wants to eat outside? Especially considering German Chef Pia served up some typically German specialties! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Fortunately, because of the fantastic weather an expanded lunch buffet was served outside today – and I couldn’t miss it. I’ve sailed with Executive Chef Pia before onboard the Silver Discoverer, and I know that – hailing from Germany – she makes a mean sauerkraut.

Indeed, sauerkraut and traditional Bavarian sausages were on offer today at The Grill outside on Deck 6, along with hot soup and all the usual offerings. Paired with a beer (German, naturally), it made for the perfect lunch.

Caribbean Blue. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Caribbean Blue. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Doing the serving: Pia and Hotel Director Marcelo, whom I had the pleasure to sail with back in October aboard the Silver Galapagos. Marcelo has been with Silversea for a decade now, and he runs a damn fine ship. I’d happily sail with him anywhere.

This afternoon, we went ashore at Fakesvagen, Svalbard for a refreshing hike. If there’s one thing that has surprised me about this Arctic itinerary, it’s that the shore landings have been few and far between. Now, that’s likely due to the issue of polar bears –which we have not seen yet, but which can crop up at any time. It’s different in Antarctica – Penguins won’t kill you. Polar bears? Well…

Guests disembark the Silver Explorer by Zodiac this afternoon for a hike around Fakesvagen, Svalbard. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests disembark the Silver Explorer by Zodiac this afternoon for a hike around Fakesvagen, Svalbard. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Arriving on Fakesvagen...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Arriving on Fakesvagen…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...and beginning our hike. Watch your step! You don't want to trod on the local flora and fauna. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…and beginning our hike. Watch your step! You don’t want to trod on the local flora and fauna. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our guide was the ever-knowledgeable Kit. One guest told me she’d heard Kit lecturing in Houston, approached her, and asked her where and when she was sailing – and immediately booked passage on this voyage. I can tell you what engines the Silver Explorer has, or whether her screws are fixed or variable-pitch, but Kit can tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the world around you.

The hike was decent – there were some strenuous parts, and most of it was up a gradual slope with small sections of loose rock and gravel. Those who were unable to complete the whole walk, or who wished to just go part-way, were able to do so. I liked that Silversea built in that flexibility. Most people were game for the entire hike to the top of the mountain – about 150 metres or 492 feet – and the views were more than worth it.

Spectacular Fakesvagen. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Spectacular Fakesvagen. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This was a proper hike, with some steep sections, a significant elevation gain, and loose terrain. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This was a proper hike, with some steep sections, a significant elevation gain, and loose terrain. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Few of us minded; personally, I loved the hikes and would love to see more of them offered. But to do that...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Few of us minded; personally, I loved the hikes and would love to see more of them offered. But to do that…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...I know they'd need more bear guards. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…I know they’d need more bear guards. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The thing about these moments is that this could be the only chance you ever have to stand on this spot in your lifetime. You may never come back. This isn’t Las Vegas; this is Faksevagen, Svalbard – as remote, wild and untamed a place as they come on this Earth.

This is a place where the material objects and petty worries of everyday life stop mattering. Your money buys you nothing here. Obamacare, the so-called Grexit, ISIS or ISL or whatever the heck they’re calling themselves these days – it all doesn’t matter. Life here will continue its march regardless.

Once at the top.... Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Once at the top…. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...guests were invited to take a quiet moment. I did. And it was stunning. Sometimes silence really is golden. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…guests were invited to take a quiet moment. I did. And it was stunning. Sometimes silence really is golden. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Like Antarctica, Faksevagen is almost devoid of external interference. There are no airplanes overhead; no motors, no sirens, no chatter. You’re not bombarded with billboards and advertising. You’re not told what to wear, who to love, and what to believe.

You, ironically, mean nothing to Mother Nature. You’re insignificant. You’re a speck. You’re the kittiwake flying through the air. The reindeer scavenging for food. The arctic fox looking for its next meal. And Faksevagen will outlast it all.

We begin our trek to the bottom of the hill in the afternoon. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

We begin our trek to the bottom of the hill in the afternoon. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests head back to the Silver Explorer. What a sight! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests head back to the Silver Explorer. What a sight! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Tick. Tick. Tick. These are the seconds of your life that you will be here, on this spot, and they’re slipping by. Once they’re up, that might very well be it. So take five minutes. Sit down. Don’t say a word. Take one long, last look, as the ghosts of those who have come before you have. Explorers like Amundsen and Nansen, Franklin and Crozier, Andree, Peary and Mawson.

These men understood what few do today: that the Arctic is a passionate obsession, worthy of any lover’s desire. It holds you – and it never lets you go.

Goodnight! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Goodnight! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer continues tomorrow from the Arctic and Woodfjorden, Svalbard! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

The post Silver Explorer Arctic Adventure, Day 8: Fakesvagen, Svalbard appeared first on Cruise Reviews, Ship Reviews by The Avid Cruiser.

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Silver Explorer Arctic Adventure, Day 7: Torellneset, Svalbard http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/08/silver-explorer-arctic-adventure-day-7-torellneset-svalbard/ http://www.avidcruiser.com/2015/07/08/silver-explorer-arctic-adventure-day-7-torellneset-svalbard/#respond Wed, 08 Jul 2015 15:03:59 +0000 http://www.avidcruiser.com/?p=44156 Ice Blink Wednesday, July 8, 2015 Today was all about mood and atmosphere here onboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer as we continued to hunt the elusive Polar Bear in Arctic Svalbard. To kick things off, we started the day with a two-hour overland “hike” (more of a stroll, really) along the gravely shoreline of Torellneset,... [Read More]

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Ice Blink

Today, we got a real taste of the moody, ethereal character of Arctic Svalbard. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Today, we got a real taste of the moody, ethereal character of Arctic Svalbard. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Today was all about mood and atmosphere here onboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer as we continued to hunt the elusive Polar Bear in Arctic Svalbard.

To kick things off, we started the day with a two-hour overland “hike” (more of a stroll, really) along the gravely shoreline of Torellneset, Nordaustlandet, Svalbard.

This morning, we came ashore in Torellneset, Svalbard for a hike. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This morning, we came ashore in Torellneset, Svalbard for a hike. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Once again, disembarkation from the ship was conducted by Zodiac groups to ensure Zodiac operations are orderly and efficient. Once ashore, groups were then further subdivided and passed off to one of the Silver Explorer Expedition Team members for a guided walking tour of this fascinating landscape. Even better, each group set off in their own separate direction so that we wouldn’t all be herded along.

With our four polar bear guards minding the perimeter, we joined Expedition Team Member Franz for a fabulous walk – and a great chance to stretch our legs after being at sea for a few days.

Polar Bear Guard and Expedition Team Member Chris on watch. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Polar Bear Guard and Expedition Team Member Chris on watch. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders


Safe and secure, guests set out on our fantastic walk...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Safe and secure, guests set out on our fantastic walk…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders


...led by Expedition Team member Franz. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…led by Expedition Team member Franz. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Regarding the polar bears, the team is prepared for any eventualities: should a bear breach the perimeter, Franz – like the other Expedition Team members – carries a high-powered pistol in his pocket. It’s a stark reminder that, while our ship may be far more comfortable than those early explorers, we’re still subjected to the same threats as they were. The trick is, we’re taking control of our environment in a way the early explorers weren’t able to.

Along our walk, we were fortunate enough to see about five walruses in various stages of hauling themselves into and out of the water. We probably spent 30 solid minutes just watching them before continuing on.

We were treated to a real sight: walruses, and lots of them. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

We were treated to a real sight: walruses, and lots of them. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders


Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders


Of course, humans watching walruses are pretty interesting, too. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Of course, humans watching walruses are pretty interesting, too. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

While the walruses were no doubt impressive, what made a more lasting impression on me was the presence of some small plants, lichens, and Arctic Crocuses that were actually managing to grow in amongst this gravelly hell they find themselves forced to cope with. These were barely taller than a few centimetres at their largest height. They’ve taken forever to grow just to become this infinitesimal size.

And yet, as you look around, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this barren wasteland contained no life at all. But your eyes can be deceived. Indeed, nothing is as it seems in the Arctic.

Looking up at the group walking along the raised ledge, they were silhouetted against a thin but noticeable band of white haze seemingly trapped between the earth and the clouds above.

Ice Blink. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Ice Blink. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

They call this phenomenon an Ice Blink. Local Inuit and early explorers operating in the Arctic in the days of sail would use this light – or ice blink – to guide them safely around any ice that might lay in their path. Essentially, light is reflected off the sea ice and bounces off low-hanging clouds to create a bright white ‘band’ that is noticeably different from the clouds in both contrast and colour.

Franz had us stand in place for one moment. No shuffling, no pictures. And you hear nothing. Nothing. Not even the wind, not even the sound of your own heart beating. Torellneset is like a science fiction movie that someone turned the soundtrack down on. In the distance, maybe, you hear the faint grunts of the walrus as he hauls his corpuscular frame out of the water. A bird, here and there.

Or maybe it’s all in your imagination.

The bleak, desolate landscape of Torellneset is endlessly fascinating. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The bleak, desolate landscape of Torellneset is endlessly fascinating. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders


Yet, life still exists here in a way it does not in the Antarctic. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Yet, life still exists here in a way it does not in the Antarctic. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders


Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Many an Arctic expedition was trapped on islands like this. Akin to being left alone in a drowning room, things tended to go downhill early. Simply sustaining life is nearly impossible. The earth is frozen. Ice litters the water. The largest plants are small enough to be snuffed out using only your fingers or the tip of your boot. You are Godzilla in the land that time forgot.

An early polar explorer named George De Long was just one of many who learned of the Arctic’s unforgiving nature the hard way. In 1879, he set out for the North Pole, but became trapped in the ice pack. Realizing their ship was doomed, he and twenty other men set out across the ice.

It took them three months of sledging, pulling rescue boats and supplies behind them, to reach open water.

Silver Explorer at anchor off Torellneset. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silver Explorer at anchor off Torellneset. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders


Even the simple act of strolling along the shoreline was fascinating in its own right. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Even the simple act of strolling along the shoreline was fascinating in its own right. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders


In the Arctic, be sure to take many quiet moments. You won't regret them. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

In the Arctic, be sure to take many quiet moments. You won’t regret them. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

And did De Long survive? No. Despite having made it to Siberia’s Lena River, they perished sometime in late October or early November of that year. Their bodies were discovered the following spring, along with a journal belonging to De Long. It had one final entry:

October 30, Sunday – One hundred and fortieth day. Boyd and Gortz died during the night. Mr. Collins dying.

Returning to the elegant Silver Explorer after an adventurous morning ashore. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Returning to the elegant Silver Explorer after an adventurous morning ashore. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

So once again, I think it’s important to appreciate this place for more than just its physical features or the possibility of seeing wildlife, largely because travel here even just a century ago was a dangerous business. And now, we are treated to this foreboding environment surrounded by every comfort.

After an enjoyable lunch outdoors at The Grill on Deck 6, we resumed our polar bear hunt with an afternoon of cruising through the pack ice at Bjornsundet, part of the Nordaust Svalbard Nature Reserve.

All at once there arose such a clatter...I sprang to my balcony, to see what was the matter. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

All at once there arose such a clatter…I sprang to my balcony, to see what was the matter. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders


Wedged in the Pack Ice for the evening - to hopefully increase our Polar Bear Odds. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Wedged in the Pack Ice for the evening – to hopefully increase our Polar Bear Odds. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I watched this for an hour or so, out on deck before returning to my suite to get some work done. Halfway through writing an article, the ship shakes noticeably. I got up from my perch at the desk and drew back to the curtains to find the tough Silver Explorer carving a path for herself in the pack ice. }

We’re going to stay here, wedged firmly into the pack ice with our strengthened bow, until 0300 tomorrow morning, in the hopes of seeing a polar bear. I shudder to think of the sight that will ensue if they page us over the public address system at 0230 in the morning – because we got a taste of it at dinner!

None of this even seems real. Yet it is. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

None of this even seems real. Yet it is. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Dinner began tonight at the usual time of half-past seven, and everything went as normal for about fifteen minutes – when the public address system’s hi-lo chime sounded.

Bing-bong-bing! A very good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen, we have just seen a polar bear…

Expedition Team Leader Juan continued to talk, but no one really heard. Dishes clattered as forks were dropped mid-bite. Chairs strained against their cables securing them to the floor as they were abruptly pushed back.

Expedition Leader Juan, right, overseeing zodiac operations at Torellneset this afternoon. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Expedition Leader Juan, right, overseeing zodiac operations at Torellneset this afternoon. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…the bear is a mother with her cub, about three miles off…

Hmm. Three miles. What is that – almost six kilometres? No one else is doing the math. No one cares – The Bear trumps all. The cacophony of sound now turns into an orderly but fast-paced rush to the exit. I haven’t seen these people move so fast in a week; you’d think they announced that they were giving away gold on the open bow deck. People left food half-finished and splattered all over the table. iPhones sat on tables. Purses sat by chairs. No one cared. The cameras were all that was important.

A deserted dining room after our first polar bear sighting. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

A deserted dining room after our first polar bear sighting. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders


Guests jumped up so fast that food remained uneaten, and personal items were strewn about. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests jumped up so fast that food remained uneaten, and personal items were strewn about. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I decided to stay put and enjoy my appetizer and my glass of wine, and here’s why: at that distance, the bear could well be a speck of an iceberg in the distance. Or the beginnings of a cataract. I loved the idea of going out, but I loved the warmth of the dining room more. So until they announce it’s just a wee bit closer, I probably won’t make the trek! Still – I appreciated it, and aside from a handful of us who stayed behind, most people emptied out of the dining room for about half an hour to have a look.

Sunset - or as close to it as we're ever going to get - in the pack ice in Arctic Svalbard. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Sunset – or as close to it as we’re ever going to get – in the pack ice in Arctic Svalbard. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

After dinner, I took one last stroll around the open promenade on Deck 6 before returning to my suite. I was tired – mentally and physically. I felt spent. I felt old and worn. My singular thought was to go inside, shower, and go to bed in order to be up at 6:00 a.m. for our morning of Zodiac touring tomorrow.

What the...?! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

What the…?! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders


Oh! Well, hello there. Who let you in? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Oh! Well, hello there. Who let you in? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

When I opened the door, a strip of Moulin Rouge-esque lighting greeted me from floor level. Curious. So, like the moth to the flame, I followed the red LED road around the corner, down the hallway, and into the bedroom – where a small party was in progress!

Yes, a towel animal polar bear was living it up with two towel animal walruses. The room is bathed in red light, which snakes around the lamps and the bed itself. A small LED light mounted on the desk is projecting psychedelic shapes across the room and the party taking place on my bed.

I burst out laughing. Silversea may be luxury, yes. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to have fun!

Goodnight...I think! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Goodnight…I think! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer continues tomorrow with more adventures in Arctic Svalbard! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

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