Ice-defying expedition cruise ships charting new courses

A new generation of polar cruise ships now being readied will open fresh cruise territory, make it possible to go deeper and longer into arctic areas or to sail at times of the year never before attempted.

The National Geographic Endurance. The 126-passenger Endurance will be able to sail year-round in any polar waters having ice no older than a year.
The National Geographic Endurance. The 126-passenger Endurance will be able to sail year-round in any polar waters having ice no older than a year.

By Tom Stieghorst

A prime example is the National Geographic Endurance, which was detailed recently for the first time in a video conference hosted by Lindblad Expeditions CEO Sven Lindblad and his senior executives.

Lindblad rhapsodized about going on a spring research trip to Svalbard, a polar call that is typically done in late summer.

“We went up to Svalbard to see it at its whitest, its iciest, its most pristine,” Lindblad recalled. “It’s a photographer’s paradise because there’s a golden hour for hours — sunrise, sunset, that soft lighting. The [polar bear] mothers and their cubs are actually coming out of their dens. It’s a really extraordinary time to be there, the month of April, in Svalbard.”

Making it feasible to cruise to Svalbard in spring are the construction specs for the 126-passenger Endurance, which will be built to Polar Code 5 strength, meaning it can sail year-round in any polar waters having ice no older than a year.

The Polar Code goes from 7 (weakest) to 1 (strongest), but only a few vessels have been built stronger than PC-5 since the code was adopted in 2007, and none of those were purpose-built for cruising, Lindblad said.

The result of the ice engineering is a couple of itineraries that Lindblad hasn’t offered before: Russia’s Northeast Passage, a trip to a national park in Greenland that is the largest in the world and an antarctic cruise with multiple landings.

“These are geographies that we really deeply, deeply want to show people,” Lindblad said.

It won’t be cheap. The Northeast Passage cruise, to be offered in July and August of 2020, is a 26-day odyssey with rack rates ranging from $34,750 to $137,560, according to the Lindblad Expeditions website.

To help justify the prices, Lindblad said, a lot of extras and amenities have been built into the Endeavor, starting with the X-bow, a novel design in which the bow, instead of projecting, is almost vertical.

“The X-bow is slicing through the waves, not slamming,” said Leif Skog, vice president of nautical at Lindblad. “So it’s very, very smooth.”

A side benefit is that passengers can gaze directly downward from the Observation Deck to see bow-riding dolphins, said Trey Byus, the line’s chief expedition officer.

To come and go on excursions, passengers will visit the Hut, an area that got a lot of thought both for functionality and design, Byus said.

“It’s a practical room. It’s where you put your parkas, your hiking boots, your rubber boots, your walking sticks,” Byus said. “After all, you’re going to get geared up to go out and explore these places, and you want to do it in a room that’s comfortable.”

Each of the ship’s 69 cabins will feature a “Command Center,” a kind of shrine to expedition cruising that will include a desk, an HDTV, an iPad, a National Geographic World Atlas and a working barometer, analog clock and incline meter, which shows the tilt of the ship.

Public areas were designed by Partners Design of Hamburg and include the glass-lined Ice Lounge; the Den, which has a simulated fireplace; and a glass-enclosed yoga studio on one of the upper decks.

Linda Allen, owner of Cruises by Linda in Harrison, Ark., said, “It sounds like it’s going to be a fabulous vessel. I sailed with Lindblad to the Galapagos, and they just do a fine job. So I’m sure it’s going to be wonderful.”

Other vessels are also being built or rebuilt to higher ice strength. The Silversea Cruises ship Silver Cloud will try the Northeast Passage next summer after being refit for polar waters in 2017.

And Ponant, the luxury French expedition line, is at work on Le Commander Charcot, a 270-passenger custom polar ship that is scheduled for delivery in 2021. It will be built to PC-2 specifications, so like the Endurance it will functionally be its own icebreaker.

This article was originally published by Travel Weekly. 

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