One of our cruise specialists, Kathy, set sail on a voyage of a lifetime in the Arctic with AE Expeditions this month. AE Expeditions (part of Aurora Expeditions) have been pioneering exploration and adventure travel for more than 32 years and are deeply committed to travel with positive impacts. Their expert Expedition Teams have been sharing their knowledge and understanding of some of the most remote and unspoiled destinations on our planet – and Kathy got to experience this in the Arctic.
Kathy set off to enjoy the very best of Svalbard and was absolutely thrilled to have this opportunity and couldn’t wait to share her journey. Read on to hear a Q&A with Kathy, to see what she had to say about her trip.
Kathy’s Trip Q&A
How did you find your travel day and embarkation?
I flew to Oslo for an overnight stay and then on to Longyearbyen via Tromso – all with Norwegian Airlines, with on time and efficient flights. I stayed overnight in Longyearbyen at The Radisson Blu where all passengers completed their initial check in for the ship and I was given my cabin keycard. We travelled by just a 10-minute bus ride to the harbour where we boarded our expedition ship, Greg Mortimer. Our embarkation was all very efficient.
Can you tell us about the ship you travelled on with AE Expeditions?
AE Expeditions describe their ship as a “smaller, purpose-built ship for expeditions” and that their design is for “rugged, remote areas”. I would totally agree with that statement!
Here is a link for more information about this wonderful ship: https://www.fredholidays.co.uk/ships/greg-mortimer
This ship accommodates an average of 132 expeditioners per voyage and all cabins have a view of the ocean with 85% of them having their own balcony. I spoke with guests on board and everyone I spoke with were very happy with on board life aboard Greg Mortimer.
Also, onboard there are two unique hydraulic viewing platforms which fold out for unobstructed views of passing marine life and birds. Depending on the weather, these platforms can be used when the ship is gently cruising or when it is stationery. Safety features on board Greg Mortimer were important too – The Greg Mortimer features industry-leading safety technology that exceeds the requirements for a ship of this size with a world class return-to-port equipment, which duplicates the propulsion system, enabling the ship to maintain operating systems and comfort in the event of engine failure.
There is even a sauna and two Jacuzzis onboard and yes I tried those too! I’ve never sat in a Jacuzzi with my wooly hat on before! If you are expecting casinos, many shops and after dinner entertainment, then this is not the cruise for you – this is a true expedition cruise. A once in a lifetime experience.
How was your experience cruising on an expedition style cruise? Tell us about your experience of this.
AE Expeditions have a passion for adventure, exploring wild places and sharing this experience with friends.
Aurora have an excellent Expedition Team and their group leader Christophe speaks so highly of all members in his team. They have a jovial yet direct way of explaining the science and nature to anyone who cares to listen. Most of the team have PHD’s or Masters Degrees and are extremely knowledgeable! One team member, Gaby, even put out an anonymous questions box and she would find out the answer and reply to you next day in the group ‘recap and precap’ session in the lecture theatre. It was fun!
There were also small groups of divers and kayakers on board – these passengers went out on separate zodiacs at various destinations with experts. If the Expedition Team thought it was too dangerous because of the threat of Polar Bear or Walrus, then they could not dive or kayak that day. Safety was always paramount and at every stop, the destination was always ‘scouted’ before any passengers were allowed off the ship.
What was an average day like on this itinerary? Describe a little about your day-to-day onboard.
There was a routine on board – every day you would see a planner on your cabin television screen, which explained meal times and roughly what we would be experiencing that day. Plans could change if Polar Bears or Whales are spotted and we change course in the hope to view them from a distance.
Our day always started with the Expedition Leader, Christophe, waking everybody with a gentle voice beamed over your cabin speakers with “Good Morning Polar Explorers”. He would go into detail about where in the Arctic we were, for example in which fjord. He also spoke about the weather, wind and what kind of Zodiac trips to expect that day. Whether it would be a Zodiac cruise or a Zodiac landing – either were just as exhilarating and unique.
This is not your typical, chilled scenic type of cruise. This is an Expedition cruise. Every day we were given the chance of Zodiac trips and lectures (all were optional of course) and I grabbed every opportunity that I could to go along to all of them. We learned about the destinations whilst on the Zodiac by the very experienced and informative Expedition Team members. We learned about the geology, type of ice glacier or sea ice, zooplankton and phytoplankton, clouds, glaciers, global warming and much more! There was so much to take in.
What are some of the most unique activities you did onboard?
One night we had an outdoor BBQ – the food was delicious and the restaurant staff always did so well – we had Gluwein, Hot Chocolate and hot drinks also.
On our sailing, you could even try the Polar Plunge if you are brave enough to jump into the Arctic Ocean! Instead, I tried the Polar Slumber Party on deck – but I had to give up after an hour, it was too cold for me!
What were your expectations of this style of cruise? How did this live up to your expectations?
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. When I looked at the website of the ship, it appeared small but I was very wrong. The Greg Mortimer is an eight-deck ‘built for purpose’ ship that is designed perfectly for active expedition cruising. The cabins were luxurious and even had heated flooring in your bathroom - ideal for drying out any damp clothing. All public areas including the library, the lecture theatre and the dining room were tastefully decorated and all informal.
Would you say this cruise is suitable for both solo and group travellers alike?
There were several solo passengers on board – and they do great solo offers too! The solo passengers were not ‘solo’ for long as they teamed up with our group and couple alike! There are no set tables, so we dined with someone different almost every day. What a great way to meet interesting new people and hear about their lives.
Tell us about some of your favourite moments from your trip?
My personal favourite moment was spotting a Polar Bear for the very first time at 00.08 on the 8th June – my birthday! What a birthday present… then passengers around me realised the date and sang happy birthday to me in the sunshine just after midnight – what a surreal experience in the ‘land of the midnight sun’.
How did this incredible trip make you feel?
This certainly is a trip of a lifetime! I feel so thankful, special and humbled to have witnessed this epic ‘Svalbard Odyssey Voyage’.