Big Adventure, Small Footprint: A New Way to Cruise
Even if you hadn’t particularly heard the call of the wild before 2020, odds are, after a year spent largely at home and on screens, you’ve got a newfound urge to not only get out there, but also (with all due respect to your Netflix queue) binge on eye-popping, awe-restoring, IRL beauty.
Of course, you also want to do so responsibly. Even among longtime conservationists, another big takeaway from the last year has been the utter immediacy of our impact on the world around us. (Remember the wildlife street party—all frolicking goats and coyotes and lions—that was the first global lockdown?)
For explorers who are as intent on doing right by nature as they are on immersing in it, the best way to re-emerge into the world may well be on a conservation-minded expedition vessel. Case in point? Hurtigruten Expeditions: the first company to launch hybrid electric-powered cruise ships—the MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjof Nansen—as you likely saw in pre-lockdown headlines everywhere from NBC News to Forbes to Lonely Planet.
Admittedly, hopping aboard a hybrid has its self-serving moments: In full electric mode, the ship goes silent, allowing you to eavesdrop on, say, the whale conversations in the area—among other surreal sounds.
And the vessels themselves are just one part of a whole—well, ecosystem—of operations that has made Hurtigruten Expeditions a longtime leader in the world of sustainable travel. To get a feel for some of the other elements, and what they’ll mean for you when you’re out exploring, read on. We’re spotlighting three destinations so spectacular, you may want to proceed with your calendar open and some potential dates blocked out.
Let’s start at the bottom of the world, where the MS Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian namesake began his polar exploration career in the late 1800s (by 1911, he’d gone on to become—among other things—the first person to lead a successful expedition to the South Pole). Granted, when you explore the White Continent, you’ll be doing so a bit differently on the ship that bears his name—or depending on when you go, the one that bears name of his fellow Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen. Beyond the aforementioned pioneering hybrid electric-powered engines, both new ships blend an astonishing array of science and sustainability innovations with equally notable indulgences.
In the former category, the inarguable showpiece is the Science Center, where you’ll find live specimen tanks, undersea drone cameras, high-powered microscopes (including rare geological scopes), maneuverable skeletal casts—and that’s just the short list. Though you’ll have fun examining the local ecosystem in there, you’ll also love gaping at it from the floor-to-ceiling-windowed sauna, a standout in the latter category, where other decadent touches include the infinity-edged pool and neighboring hot tubs, the vista-blessed day beds in the Explorer Lounge—and the body treatments at the Wellness Center.
Still, what feels even better is knowing you’re on a ship that—to date—has the lowest possible impact on the spectacularly pristine and surreal land- and sea-scapes around you. And while the exact landings you do will vary by itinerary and daily weather conditions, expect vast numbers and various species of penguins (many of whom, P.S. aren’t remotely shy around visitors), seals (same, but you’ll definitely want to keep your distance from some of them) and whales (a bit more elusive than the others, but odds are good for plentiful sightings).
You can also expect a range of excursion possibilities, among them, hiking, kayaking, snowshoeing, polar plunging, and—if your inner Amundsen is really calling—a night of Antarctic camping, albeit with state-of-the-art 21st-century gear.
You’ll also joy ride in small, inflatable boats among seemingly endless galleries of epic, floating ice sculptures. Don’t even try to name any of the thousand shades of blue that are ombred into the bergs—each is more surreal than the last, and would defy even the most creative minds at Pantone or Crayola.
Of course, there’s also quite a bit you’ll see on your way to the end of the earth. Again, the details are itinerary- and weather-dependent (part of the fun of expedition cruising in wild corners of the world is never quite knowing exactly how your day will unfold), but possible highlights include: Puerto Edén, a 250-person village at the end of a mountain-ringed fjord in Chile’s Bernardo O’Higgins National Park; the dramatic peak-punctuated Torres del Paine (another Chilean national park that—in and of itself—tops many a traveler’s bucket list); and the fabled Cape Horn, where there will be at least an attempted landing.
Though slightly closer to home, “America’s Last Frontier” is still so remote and vast that the International Date Line has to curve around its extremities to keep the whole state this side of the calendar cutoff (versus Russia’s side, where some bits would fall if you were simply to draw a straight meridian). So Alaska owes its otherworldliness to more than the astonishing landscape, wildlife and ancient culture: The fact that there’s a part of the state where you can walk a couple of miles to Russia over seasonal ice makes this place, well, a world apart.
Of course, a place so unto itself calls for an expedition unto itself, and that’s where Hurtigruten Expeditions comes in. The first line of its kind to be certified by Adventure Green Alaska—a program that assesses environmental, economic and social sustainability—Hurtigruten Expeditions runs the eco-friendliest cruises you’ll find in these waters. Once again, the MS Roald Amundsen’s hybrid power accounts for a good deal of that greenness, but here’s a timely bonus: For any Alaska 2022 cruise purchased during Earth Week this year, a portion of the proceeds will go to the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.
And as soon as you get up close and personal with said wildlife in the most remote and bucket-listy of environments—something the Hurtigruten Expeditions fleet is built for while the big ships decidedly are not—you, too, will begin to feel invested in these animals’ future (in fact, that’s part of the larger ethos of eco-cruising).
Close encounters might include—but certainly aren’t limited to—the puffins, cormorants and foxes that occupy an isolated and deserted island in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge; the various brown bear communities that live among the dozen active volcanoes of Katmai National Park; or the humpbacks, orcas, sea lions, sea otters and harbor seals that patrol the tidal glaciers of the Gulf of Alaska.
But whatever potential wildlife sighting is on the day’s docket—moose, caribou, musk oxen, or the iconic bears grabbing salmon from waterfalls—the onboard pro photographer will set you up with tips and tricks for capturing the best shots. In fact, if you really want to brush up on your skills, check out the ship’s photo center.
Another spot that will help deepen your connection to all the wildlife you’re seeing is the Science Center, where you’re welcome to pick up the life-size skeletal casts, among other educational aids. Then again, if you’re still haunted by The Revenant, maybe leave the grizzly claw alone.
Though all this wildlife—and the wilderness it calls home—is likely what drew you to Alaska, your human interactions will prove equally memorable, particularly among members of the Tlingit, Haida and other First Nations communities. In fact, the ancestral traditions you'll likely learn about—from storytelling to woodworking—will only deepen your reverence for the natural world that's long inspired them, starting with the primordial local rain forests.
Welcome to Hurtigruten Expeditions' home turf, where the company has been plying the Norwegian coast in one form or another since 1893. And though there have been many milestone celebrations since, arguably the most on-point was the forever-banning of single-use plastics on the occasion of the line’s 125th birthday.
But there’s another sustainability measure that feels more conventionally celebratory—in that it involves a lot of good food: Hurtigruten Expeditions’ chefs work directly with more than 70 small-scale Norwegian suppliers of seafood, dairy, produce and more. Beyond the spectacular freshness of these local specialties—and the significant reduction of food miles and packaging (in fact, Hurtigruten Expeditions aims to cut all food waste by 20% within the year)—this farm-to-table approach turns out to be a great intro to the local communities.
Not only are you tasting the freshest Arctic char from Sigerfjord or richest ice cream from Lofoten—you’re also getting the whole fascinating backstory on the suppliers—not least, because a number of their home communities turn out to be stops on your itinerary.
Take Lofoten, for example: You’re very likely to spend a day exploring the archipelago’s towering peaks, secluded beaches and colorful fishing villages. And if—as you’re docking at Reine—the stilted red fisherman’s huts along the shoreline and the snowy granite mountains in the backdrop feel familiar to you, it’s not just because of the stories you’ve heard onboard about where your amazing meals hail from. The scene is so stunning, it’s one of the most photographed in Norway.
Then again, you’d be hard-pressed to find a segment of the Norwegian coastline that wasn’t photogenic. This is, after all, a land of more than 1000 fjords, mountains that plunge directly into the sea, Viking settlements and—depending on when you go—midnight sun or Northern Lights.
Many of Hurtigruten Expeditions’ Norwegian itineraries go as far up as the North Cape—well into the Arctic Circle, this is Europe’s northernmost point—but if you’re looking for an entire Norwegian Arctic-themed adventure, you’ll need to book one of the expeditions specifically listed under the Svalbard heading.
Beyond being polar bear central (and yes, they’ll be the undisputed superstars of your trip), this staggeringly beautiful archipelago—all glaciers, ice floes, fjords and mountains—is home to reindeer, walruses, seals and various species of whales (not least, narwhals!).
Among the many sustainability measures that Hurtigruten Expeditions has instituted through the years to help protect this singular and fragile ecosystem, one recent introduction is also arguably the most fun. The company is the first in Scandinavia to offer emission-free electric snowmobiles whose batteries can be powered with solar and wind energy. These eSleds are so quiet, they’re as serenity-inducing as they are adrenaline-boosting. And minus the noise that would otherwise alert wildlife to your presence, you really have no idea what might show up—but strong possibilities include reindeer, ptarmigans and polar foxes. Still, just to experience the pure Arctic silence amidst endless white wilderness is in itself a bucket-list moment—the kind you could have with only one cruise line.