Two Of My Favorite Exotic Cruises

With more than 200 ocean cruises under my belt, and 50+ river cruises, I thought it would be fun to reflect on some of the best cruises I’ve ever experienced. I begin with two, Russia’s Far East and Greenland.

Something happened along the way. I found that as I “matured” as a cruiser, my preferences for where I cruised grew increasingly exotic. By exotic, I am referring to one of Miriam-Webster’s definitions, the one that defines exotic as “strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously different or unusual.”

Sure, the Caribbean certainly can fulfill that definition for many. And the Caribbean matched my ambitions for a long time. But as I cruised more and more, I began to think about the remote areas of the globe, and back then, with expedition cruising still in its infancy, I was fortunate to be invited on several expedition cruises to write about them.

Below are a couple of my favorite cruises – make that travel experiences – ever.

Silver Discoverer, Russia’s Far East

Russia's Far East
How do you recap a trip where every day was comprised of peak experiences, sometimes multiple peak experiences? How do you write about a journey to a place that seems nearly as remote as Mars, a region that for me was on the other side of the International Dateline and far removed from civilization? How do you choose to illustrate the experiences from the more than 2,000 photos that your index finger was compelled to snap? How do you tell the story of Russia’s Far East on Silver Discoverer?

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Silver Discoverer showed us native people, awe-inspiring spectacles of nature and stunning landscapes during two weeks in August of 2014. All photos © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

No doubt, Silversea Expeditions knows that the story of this remote region is a hard one to convey. Words and photos (and videos) can evoke part of what my 17-year-old son Alex and I experienced on Silver Discoverer for two weeks in August of 2014, but even I, despite having been there, had trouble processing all that we did and how what we did changed us.
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Oh yes, the trip changed us. Only an uninquisitive being could return from that trip unchanged. The spectacle of nature alone was enough to shift mindsets — more than 100 killer whales sighted one morning as we floated along with them for the better part of two hours; several hundred walruses in the waters around our Zodiacs a few days before; and on another day, humpback whales so close that we could feel their spray as we bobbed around in Zodiacs.
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There was much more — spotting 21 brown bear in one day, birds rarely seen elsewhere in the world, uninhabited landscapes, forgotten towns, tribal villages and native people.
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No photo does justice to our chance encounter with the nomadic reindeer herders. We had nearly given up hope that we would find them, but on one sunny afternoon, while my son and I were out in a Zodiac with our Russian guide Sergey, there, on the shoreline, through the binoculars, were two lonely souls who were must have been hoping that we would see them. Fortunately, for them — and for us — we did.
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Imagine doing as we did, swinging our legs over the edge of the Zodiac and dipping our boots into sea water that came slightly above our ankles, wading ashore, not sure how we would be greeted by these peculiar people, who carried rifles, mind you.
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We had heard that the reindeer herders range for more than 1,000 kilometers to bring their Arctic deer to the shoreline so that the graceful animals can sip saltwater. It is an odd notion, but it is said that the saltwater is good for the reindeers’ bones.

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Alex and big lenses borrowed from Silver Discoverer photographer/videographer Richard Sidey. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

Mosquitoes swarmed us as we sat on the tundra talking to the reindeer herders. Well, Sergey talked, and translated relevant bits to Alex and me. We learned that there had been a lot of bear here during the last few days. That must have made sleeping difficult, even more difficult than sleeping out in the open with no tent and no mosquito repellent. How did they live out here, so exposed?

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The reindeer herders with my son Alex and our guide Sergey. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

Imagine inviting them back to our ship, where they were applauded by guests and crew as they stepped on board. It seemed an odd welcome, but how else does one greet two reindeer herders who probably had never seen — or imagined — such luxury?
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The reindeer herders were invited to dinner on perhaps the most beautiful evening of our voyage, when the sun glistened on the rippling sea as waiters poured champagne and wine and placed gourmet dishes before us. All of us, the entire complement of the ship, dined outdoors by the pool that evening. As the sun descended, we drew sweaters around our shoulders, and slowly daylight began to give way to night, with a half-moon rising over the ridges. It was a sight to behold, an evening to remember.
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I had watched the reindeer herders, in their gritty clothes, cutting into their steaks, on tables adorned by white cloths. The two men, accompanied by Sergey and engaged in conversation with him, sipped beer. Could they have imagined that when they stood up on the tundra this morning that they would be dining on Silver Discoverer tonight?

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The reindeer herders dining at the Grill on Silver Discoverer. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

The reindeer herders left shortly before the dinner ended, boarding a Zodiac to be taken back to their “camp.” Of more importance than finishing dessert was to get back to work rounding up a few of their stray reindeer.

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There were many highlights from our voyage, including meeting native people, such as the Koryaks in Tymlat Village. © 2014 Ralph Grizzle

They left behind a strong impression, however. Our encounter with a people that you would not likely meet — even if you lived more than 200 years on this planet — was emblematic of the type of experience that Silversea Expeditions strives to create: something memorable and often inexpressible, even for one who professes to be writers, like me.
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Also see …

Silver Explorer, Greenland


What impressions did Greenland and Silver Explorer leave upon us? Silver Explorer reminds me of the “Little Engine That Could.” She’s small but mighty. She works hard, and the 132 guests who sail her are rewarded for her hard work.
She’s taken me to Antarctica, where she outran a storm to get us to safe passage. She’s shown me that the Caribbean can still be an adventurous and charming place. And now she has shown me the beauty and grandeur of Greenland.

Silver Explorer, Greenland
Icebergs in Ilulissat. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

She’s done all of this in that distinct Silversea style. What is that style? Silversea is a family-owned operation, and as such, its fleet has a family feeling. The on-board ambience is professional, yet personal. I stepped aboard to hugs and handshakes with staff who I had traveled with before. It wasn’t just that I was back on board. They were still there too, still working for Silversea. That says quite a lot too, I think.
I summed up a lot of what I like about Silver Explorer in An Avid Cruiser Favorite: Luxury Expedition Cruising On Silver Explorer. Though I posted it quite a few years ago, it’s still relevant about the components that set Silversea apart in the expedition segment.

Silver Explorer, Greenland
My son and I meet a local in Saqqaq. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

I once penned these words here on Avid Cruiser: Sometimes the significance of a trip doesn’t truly register until days, weeks, months or perhaps even years later. Our voyage to Greenland ended only a little more than a week ago, and already I find myself thinking back to the magic of the experience. I can’t thank Silversea and its fine staff enough for what they showed us, not only in Greenland but also on board the “Little Engine That Could.”

Silver Explorer, Greenland
Last night, the Northern Lights from Silver Explorer. © 2015 Ralph Grizzle

 

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