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On Top of the World

A behind-the-scenes look at our new Arctic adventure

Posted on 7/23/2019 12:00:00 AM in The Buzz

Like most things in the remote Arctic region, polar bear sightings can’t be guaranteed—but the expedition crew of the M/V Hondius will use their expertise to spot them.

For adventurous travelers, some of the ultimate milestones lie at the literal ends of the Earth—places that once tested the endurance of even the bravest explorers. And with the impact of climate change looming ominously in the polar regions, we feel drawn to visit while we can—without leaving a negative environmental footprint.

“We know that many of our travelers to the Antarctic also consider the Arctic a ‘must-do’ destination,” says Simon Laxton, President of O.A.T. Small Ships. Beginning with departures in June of 2020, that dream can become a reality aboard our Arctic Expedition: Untamed Norway & Svalbard Small Ship Adventure, which plies the Arctic Ocean for 10 nights around the Svalbard archipelago. As you might expect, planning our very first itinerary in such a remote, delicate part of the world posed unique challenges.

First and foremost, we needed a ship—and with our own M/V Corinthian deployed in the British Isles, Simon and his team set out to find a charter vessel. “We struggled for some time,” says Simon, “until we found the Hondius: a newly constructed Polar-Class 6 vessel.” While the ship entered service in May of this year, Simon knows from experience that new vessels undergo growing pains. “We felt it better to start in 2020,” he says.

The privately-chartered 150-passenger M/V Hondius is the first civilian ship to ever receive a Polar Class Six designation.

The 350-foot, ice-strengthened vessel will carry 150 O.A.T. travelers, who will explore the Arctic in six small groups of just 20-25—making landings aboard 10-passenger Zodiacs. But the ship’s physical amenities only tell part of the story. “The company that owns the Hondius really cares about the environment,” says Simon. “For example, all waste is stored onboard and recycled at designated turnaround points. And the ‘paperwork’ for the cruise is all collected electronically.” The ship’s owners also place a high value on service and hospitality, which aligns with our own standards of quality. “During the summer, the Hondius team will spend time aboard the Corinthian,” says Simon, “so we can ensure that the onboard service, menu, and daily operation will fully reflect the O.A.T. small ship experience that our travelers know and love.”

Of course, the major benefit of exploring the Arctic by small ship is the intimacy of the experience—both onboard and out in nature. The ship’s captain and expedition will plan the itinerary on the spot according to highly variable weather conditions—so no two departures will be exactly alike. “This makes for a sense of adventure that differs from our other cruises,” says Simon. Among the possible highlights? “We could sail into Liefdefjorden and cruise within sight of the three-mile face of Monaco Glacier. The waters here are a favorite feeding spot for thousands of kittiwakes, and the base of the ice is a popular polar bear hunting ground.”

We may also spot polar bears north of Nordaustlandet in the Seven Islands—just 540 miles south of the geographic North Pole. “There is no guarantee that the bears will be there,” says Simon, “but if they are, our expedition team will do all they can to safely view them!” Conditions permitting, the crew will also attempt to land on Nordaustlandet, where reindeer, pink-footed geese, and walruses are common sightings.

Depending on weather and sea conditions, our ideal plan for every cruise is a full circumnavigation of Svalbard with at least one Zodiac landing per day. While onboard the Hondius, the expedition team will educate travelers about the Arctic through a series of talks in the onboard lecture room. “They are experts in history, geography, wildlife, the environment, and of course safety,” says Simon. “Some have even undertaken special training around polar bear protection.”

While the expedition team will be available throughout the 10-night cruise, each group of 20-25 travelers will have a dedicated Trip Experience Leader by their side for the entire trip, which begins with a 3-night stay in Oslo. “As always, our Trip Experience Leaders will seek to immerse our travelers in Norwegian culture, meeting local people and discussing controversial topics.”

While summer days are long above the Arctic Circle, the season itself is quite short—so our Arctic Expedition: Untamed Norway & Svalbard Small Ship Adventure will be available for just three departures only. It’s just one of many ways that nature calls the shots in this part of the world—but that’s what makes it such a rare and beautiful adventure.

Be among the first to explore the Arctic with O.A.T. when you join our NEW Arctic Expedition: Untamed Norway & Svalbard Small Ship Adventure.

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