Silver Explorer Arctic Adventure, Day 6: The Polar Ice Cap

Exploring the Polar Ice Cap

Cruising the Polar Ice Cap aboard Silversea Expedition's Silver Explorer! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Cruising the Polar Ice Cap aboard Silversea Expedition’s Silver Explorer! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I was brushing my teeth when I felt Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer shudder. It wasn’t much – just enough to rattle a few ceiling tiles and create an obvious disturbance beneath my feet. I could feel the ship bounce in place a few times, then return to normal.

I knew then that we’d entered the pack ice that would eventually give way to the polar ice cap.

A truly amazing sight today: not everyone gets to see the edge of the polar ice cap in their lifetimes; a fact not lost on guests today. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
A truly amazing sight today: not everyone gets to see the edge of the polar ice cap in their lifetimes; a fact not lost on guests today. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Today, guests aboard Silver Explorer are being treated to a day above 80°N latitude, exploring the pack ice that exists above arctic Svalbard. Although it might not look like it at first glance, this vast expanse of Arctic Ocean littered with ice floes is actually an area known as the Nordaust Svalbard Nature Reserve. Our goal for the day: to weave in and among the ice in the ongoing search for the elusive Polar Bear.

To put where we are in perspective, at 80°N we are very nearly at the top of the world. Only parts of Ellesmere Island in arctic Canada, the northernmost tip of Greenland, Franz Josef Land, and the Severnaya Zemlya islands in Russia are higher. Only a thousand kilometres separate us from the North Pole, but getting there is nearly impossible due to the thick polar ice cap. You’d need an icebreaker – and probably a helicopter – to get the job done.

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

And how is it that Silver Explorer can cut through this pack ice? She’s been specially designed and built to operate in Polar Regions. Lloyds Register has given her a Class 1A Ice Rating thanks to her strengthened hull and sharper-than-average bow that allows her to literally slice through most kinds of ice safely.

And slice through the ice we did. All day, in fact. That in and of itself turned out to be quite the reward.

We're very far north, indeed! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
We’re very far north, indeed! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The pack ice never fails to impress. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The pack ice never fails to impress. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Though I am amazed so few guests enjoyed the hot tubs today! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Though I am amazed so few guests enjoyed the hot tubs today! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This far north, everything is in a constant state of flux. The wind changes direction with surprising speed and strength. If it comes from the north, it sweeps in over the polar ice cap and temperatures plummet rapidly. Although most of today hovered around freezing, things got down to -10°C when the wind kicked up.

The skies change colour too – from bursts of unguarded blue that are suddenly snatched away by banks of fog that roll in and out with reckless abandon.

Far from being consistent, the ice changes in shape, size and consistency. Some pieces are little more than newly-formed ice, while others could classify as growlers and a few as bergy bits. Unlike the Antarctic peninsula with its massive Tabular Icebergs, ice here is less dramatic but more numerous. It is low and flat for the most part, but stretches out for miles in every direction surrounding the ship.

On this day, I couldn't even bear the thought of eating indoors...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
On this day, I couldn’t even bear the thought of eating indoors…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...so I enjoyed lunch outside at The Grill on Deck 6 aft. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…so I enjoyed lunch outside at The Grill on Deck 6 aft. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
All the better to admire the stunning Arctic vistas. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
All the better to admire the stunning Arctic vistas. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Personally, I found this ever-changing scenery to be its own reward today. I admired it from the Observation Lounge, the Panorama Lounge, the exposed outer deck on Decks 6 and 7, and from the privacy of my own suite balcony.

Speaking of – and since there are no polar bears to be found – let’s talk a little about the Owner’s Suites aboard Silver Explorer. Each measures 728 square feet including a balcony that clocks in at a whopping 158 square feet – or roughly as large as an oceanview stateroom on a Royal Caribbean ship.

Welcome Home! A tour of Owner's Suite 704 aboard Silversea's Silver Explorer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Welcome Home! A tour of Owner’s Suite 704 aboard Silversea’s Silver Explorer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

While many suites offer French Balconies aboard Silver Explorer, only three categories of suites offer true, step-out balconies: Owner’s Suites, Grand Suites and Medallion Suites, all of which are located on Deck 7 in a new prefabricated section that was added to Silver Explorer when she was acquired in 2008.

There’s a lot to like about this suite. The balcony, even in the Arctic, is surprisingly useful. In fact, I’m amazed at how often I’m out there – even if it’s just in my pyjamas to check out the weather or to take a quick picture of the pack ice. Sure, it’s cold – but it’s your own little private oasis of deck space to enjoy.

The main living area is spacious...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The main living area is spacious…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...and large enough that you could throw a small party. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…and large enough that you could throw a small party. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The separated bedroom and living room arrangement is ideal for families – these Owner’s Suites can comfortably hold up to three guests, with the sofa couch in the living room pulling out to create a third berth.

There are little things that I appreciate: the walk-in closet is large enough for three people to store all their clothing in, and the myriad of drawers, cupboards and shelving units throughout the living and sleeping areas of the suite almost borders on overkill. You could comfortably sail on here for a month and still have storage space to spare.

Two flat-panel television sets are included: one in the living room, and one in the bedroom. Both feature interactive video-on-demand systems that include the latest movies across all genres. Adult films are not featured. Yes, I do get asked that question!

All suites boast reed diffusers with scents by Laura Tonatto. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
All suites boast reed diffusers with scents by Laura Tonatto. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Of course, you also get a mini-bar stocked with your preferences and additional alcoholic drinks are available upon request. Interestingly, suites aboard Silver Explorer come pre-stocked with a 70cl bottle of Berkeley Square London Dry Gin. Small-batch produced in Mayfair, England, Berkeley Square Gin is a new feature for me – I’ve never seen it before on the fleet. I’m also hesitant to open it as I am not really a gin man.

Bathrooms aboard Silver Explorer reflect the style found aboard Silversea's "classic" fleet of luxury ships. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Bathrooms aboard Silver Explorer reflect the style found aboard Silversea’s “classic” fleet of luxury ships. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Another great feature of these suites is the marble bathroom. While not as cavernous as bathrooms aboard Silversea’s flagship, the Silver Spirit, this bathroom is downright luxurious for an expedition vessel. There’s a separate (but open) toilet area, followed by the main sink and vanity area that boasts an excellent amount of storage space. Then, moving to the left, we come to the full-sized tub and shower combination. The shower features a rainforest shower head, and is located next to the tub. If you want to have a bath, you simply fill the tub. If you want to shower, simply stand next to the tub and turn the shower on. A frosted glass door allows for some privacy while showering, so couples could technically both be in the bathroom at the same time, with one in the shower and one at the vanity.

Here’s some other perks that Owner’s Suite guests are afforded:

  • Four hours of internet service per suite, per voyage segment.
  • Two hours of worldwide phone use from your suite, per voyage segment.
  • Dinner at an Officer’s table
  • Afternoon canapés upon request
  • An Illy espresso machine
  • Complimentary dry cleaning and pressing
  • Complimentary laundry service

Of course, Owner’s Suite guests are afforded all the perks of other suite categories, including a choice of three different types of toiletries (Bulgari, Ferragamo or a hypo-allergenic brand); nine different pillow types; complimentary video-on-demand; Pratesi bed linens; butler service; champagne on request; personalized stationery; iPod docking station; umbrellas; premium mattresses, and – of course – a complimentary backpack and water bottles on all Expedition voyages, and a complimentary parka on all polar voyages.

The pack ice from the balcony of my suite. I don't use it a lot here in the Arctic, but it is very useful for photography purposes. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The pack ice from the balcony of my suite. I don’t use it a lot here in the Arctic, but it is very useful for photography purposes. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

It’s worth noting that in Owner’s Suites, the standard Bulgari Green is replaced with Bulgari White toiletries that feature a more subtle white tea scent. Of course, if you prefer the Bulgari Vert, you can always request it from your butler. Personally, I like to switch between the Bulgari White and the Ferragamo toiletries – getting both sent to the room wasn’t an issue at all.

I have to admit: I get canapés delivered to the room every afternoon around 5:00 p.m. I tend to have a light lunch, and my tummy starts to rumble around then. With dinner at 7:30 p.m. each evening, a little cheese & shrimp cocktail hits the spot! Of course, the canapés change every evening.

The main bedroom, reflected in the mirror. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The main bedroom, reflected in the mirror. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

If there’s a downside to these massive suites, it’s that power outlets are surprisingly scarce: just one on the desk area in the living room, and one on the vanity area in the bedroom – though you’ll have to unplug the iHome iPod dock to use it. North American guests: bring two adapters – all plugs onboard Silver Explorer are the 220V, two-pronged European type.

So while we didn’t see any polar bears, today was a nice day. It gave me a chance to slow down and relax. To spend the day hunting the ice for the elusive creature. To enjoy lunch outdoors at The Grill on Deck 6 aft. To read my book. To do my writing.

Time for another great dinner in The Restaurant...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Time for another great dinner in The Restaurant…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...and a very inventive dessert! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…and a very inventive dessert! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

If you’ve been to Antarctica, you’ll know what an endurance marathon that is. There is so much to see and do that it’s just mind-boggling. Landings ashore happen at least twice a day. Scenic cruising is so phenomenal that the decks are nearly crowded 24/7. Sleep, in Antarctica, is elusive.

Where are the Polar Bears? They're not saying. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Where are the Polar Bears? They’re not saying. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
We did, however, see evidence of them today. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
We did, however, see evidence of them today. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The Arctic, by comparison, is the more laid-back of the two polar destinations. There’s more time spent at sea. Hikes are shorter. Walks are easier. There’s a good balance between on-shore exploration and time to enjoy the beautiful Silver Explorer herself.

Tomorrow, that balance continues as we set out on a landing ashore bright and early in the morning, resuming our hunt through the pack ice aboard Silver Explorer in the afternoon. I’d love to see a polar bear –but for me, this journey itself is the reward.

After all, how often do you get to see Mother Nature’s handiwork at its most raw and untamed?

Arctic Shadows. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Arctic Shadows. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silver Explorer Arctic Adventure | Live Voyage Report

Day 1Arrival in Oslo
Day 2Embarking Silver Explorer in Tromsø
Day 3Bear Island
Day 4Burgerbukta, Svalbard
Day 5Magdalenafjorden
Day 6Adventures at the Polar Ice Cap
Day 7Torellneset and the Ice Blink
Day 8Hiking Fakesvagen
Day 9Polar Bear Hunting
Day 10The Abandoned Settlement of Ny London
Day 11Longyearbyen, Fog, and An Extension of Our Voyage
Day 12Longyearbyen! Embracing Delays
Voyage Recap

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3 Comments

  • This is obviously nitpicking of the worse kind, but I feel obliged to point out that, strictly speaking, the Silver Explorer hasn’t been specifically designed to operate in the Polar regions. Her 1A ice class is thanks to her origins as a Baltic Sea cruise ship with the short-lived Finnish Delfin Cruises – and indeed 1A is an ice class notation of the Finnish-Swedish ice class rules developed for the Baltic Sea (it roughly corresponds with Polar ice class PC 4 or PC 5, if I remember correctly). That said, it’s still a higher ice class than on most Arctic and Antarctic cruise ships, with are generally built to 1C class.

    PS. I finally got the comment form here to work, yay!

    Reply
    • You caught me over-simplifying again, Kalle – and as usual, you are correct! The day’s post was already running long and I thought if I got sidetracked with the whole past history of the ship I might never stop. Thanks as always for your keen insight!

      Reply
      • You probably made the right call to simplify the text – after all, the ship’s origins (interesting as they are) have little relevance to the actual subject of the day, the superb day in the Arctic.

        My ship historical nitpicking aside, this voyage report has been pure pleasure to read (as always). Svalbard has been on my bucket list for some time, but reading both your experiences on the Silver Explorer and Peter Knego’s similar trip on Hurtigruten’s Nordstjernen at the same time, I’m starting to think I will want to do it sooner rather than later.

        Reply

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