An Extreme Cruise Experience

| Monday, 23 Jul. 2012
Near the North Pole some 50 people went to the "top of the world" in a hot air balloon during an ice-breaking cruise

There are cruises and then there are expedition cruises. These days, more and more people define a "cruise" as a vacation in a leisurely tropical setting, sitting poolside with a drink in hand. There is nothing wrong with such cruises; just being at sea beyond the horizon is something of an extreme adventure - especially if you have never tried it before.

But what if you want more adventure - far more adventure? Let your imagination run wild and think of the place least likely in the world to reach by cruise ship? How about the North Pole? What if I told you it is not only possible to cruise in the Arctic Circle, but also to take a nuclear-powered ice breaker all the way to the actual North Pole? It is possible on the Russian-built "50 Years of Victory" still owned by the nation of Russia.

This "Soviet-era" ice breaker is actually nuclear-powered (the only nuclear powered tourist vessel in the world) and is capable of cutting through the Arctic ice pack to literally within walking distance of the North Pole. Many people do not realize it, but unlike Antarctica which is a true land mass continent, the Arctic is only an ice pack not more than few meters thick all the way to the North Pole - and it is possible to break through.

In 2013 some 250 people will be taken to the North Pole on this 128-passenger vessel over two different cruise dates - and the best time of year to take this voyage is, of course, at the peak of summer.

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On a just recently completed journey on the "50 Years of Victory," the tour operators for these cruises, Quark Expeditions, arranged a "fire and ice" experience that must have left the participants truly feeling like they were "on top of the world" - literally. The company brought a hot air balloon with them on their voyage and inflated it just south of the actual North Pole at 86° 48' N 47° 21' E.

50 passengers took part in the event, with four people going up in the balloon basket at a time.

To those of you who have noticed that 86 degrees is not exactly the North Pole, the company said they would have liked to have conducted the event at the true North Pole, but conditions are too unpredictable there. For that reason the balloon event was conducted when the group saw they had the right weather conditions - and the balloon remained tethered.

How to Take This Cruise

Reports say that Arctic cruising has reversed the trend from just four years ago when almost twice as many ships went to Antarctica than the number then going to the Arctic. This is partially due to new rules that restrict vessels that burn low grade diesel fuel from entering the waters of the Antarctic Circle.

Quark Expeditions has exclusive access the 128-passenger Russian ice breaker for only a few weeks every year, and although the ship does not bear any resemblance to any cruise ship you may have seen before every stateroom does have an exterior view and bathroom facilities, and there is an onboard gymnasium, two saunas, a small swimming pool and a library.

There are also scientists and naturalists aboard who give daily briefings about your location and what you may be seeing. The journey is not all pack ice, either. You start in Murmansk, west of Norway on trhe Northern coast of Russia and you head due north past the Franz Josef Land archipelago until you hit pack ice and start cutting. All together, the journey is 14 days, but it takes about five days of cutting through the ice to reach the pole. Getting back from the pole depends on how quickly the ice re-freezes behind you which can vary a lot according to wind and weather conditions.

Along the way there is always a good chance to spot whales, dolphins and Polar bears in the floating ice packs, especially near the land masses. Just recently scientists discovered that large numbers of proto-plankton, the preferred food of baleen whales, live just under the ice pack.

The ship even carries its own Mi8 Helicopter, which comes in handy in cases of emergencies but which is also used to take guests ashore in Franz Josef Land.

Does this soound like a cruise that would appeal to you? Talk about it in the Forums.

How much does an adventure like this cost? Of the two cruises scheduled in 2013, one sails June 19 and the other leaves June 30th. The prices range from $23,995 to $34,995 per person. But all of the following is included.

  • 1 night pre & post expedition hotel accommodation in Helsinki, Finland
  • Day 2 group transfer from Helsinki hotel to airport
  • Day 2 group transfer from Murmansk airport to ship
  • Shipboard accommodation with housekeeping.
  • Shipboard breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
  • Shore landings included in daily program
  • Group helicopter transfers and sightseeing flights included in the daily program
  • Professional Expedition Leadership.
  • All Zodiac excursions and transfers.
  • Formal and informal educational presentations by the Expedition Team.
  • Photographic Journal on DVD, documenting the voyage.
  • The loan of a pair of waterproof boots for the duration of the voyage.
  • An official Quark Expeditions parka to keep.
  • Coffee, tea and cocoa available around the clock.
  • Hair dryer and bathrobes in each cabin.
  • Group transfer from the ship to the Murmansk airport.
  • Group transfer from Helsinki airport to the hotel.
  • Comprehensive pre-departure package including Quark's meticulously researched Arctic Reader and map
  • All miscellaneous service taxes and port charges throughout the program.
  • All shipboard luggage handling.
  • Emergency Evacuation Insurance to a maximum benefit of $100,000 per person.
  • All Zodiac excursions and transfers included in the daily program
  • Complimentary wine, beer, liquor and soft drinks at the bar and with meals

Go to Quark Expeditions for more information.

Does this soound like a cruise that would appeal to you? Talk about it in the Forums.

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