Silversea's Prince Albert II (Part 5)

| Tuesday, 05 Mar. 2013

This small expedition vessel offers all the luxury and charm of Silversea, but in more exotic -- and challenging -- settings.

Svalbard At Last (Continued) During that night's expedition briefing, we were told the ship would relocate overnight to a place where they hoped to see walruses. The ship would arrive at approximately 9:00 a.m., and the tour would leave at 9:45. We were told the times were approximate, but I didn't expect what happened the next morning.

Just as we were having our first morning coffee the announcement came into our room, "Ladies and gentlemen the ship has dropped anchor and we are going to start loading the Zodiacs in about 30 minutes." That put the first tour at 8:45, an hour ahead of schedule -- and before the ship was even scheduled to arrive.

They further announced, "We were not able to get the ship to the location we want due to a large ice sheet, so we are only going out for a little ice cruising."

What to do? We were still waking up, plus they said, "only ice cruising" and we had seen plenty of ice the previous abominable day. Waffling, I decided not to go, which was a big mistake.

click on pictures below for larger images:

 
walruses in Svalbard ice   walruses

I was fully dressed and on deck a half-hour later when I saw the Zodiacs all heading in the same direction. They had seen the walruses but couldn't reach them until the captain used the ship to break the impeding ice shelf, which allowed the tenders to get to the walruses.

Through my binoculars I saw the walruses swim right up to the Zodiacs, and I was extremely envious of the people who were close enough to kiss one -- not that you would ever want to do that.

Summary -- Be Prepared According to the Treaty of Svalbard under the governance of Norway with over 40 nations in agreement, only a few thousand residents live in Svalbard year round, with a few more in the summer. There were settlements of Norwegian, Russian, German and American residents established for coal mining, fishing, hunting or tourism. But only the tourist spots have endured; the rest are largely ghost towns today.

Svalbard was our final destination, and now that the ship is there, it will remain there for future cruises over most of the summer. It will proceed with little structured itinerary to wherever the wildlife is -- and that is the right thing to do. Some cruises will go to Greenland and Iceland later this summer. In retrospect, I would have preferred to fly into Svalbard to join the ship.

Prince Albert II has the complete onboard Silversea experience -- great food, service and accommodations. The tours are a completely different story, however. Keep the following precautions in mind and you will have a great expedition cruise on Prince Albert II and a true Silversea experience.

  1. In a polar region you need a complete set of waterproof clothing. Under these conditions the expedition team cannot do it alone -- you must take personal responsibility for your own safety and comfort. You need to bring waterproof pants that fit over your regular pants, and waterproof gloves. The ship will provide you with a waterproof parka in polar climates and they should have rubber boots for you onboard unless you have a very odd-sized foot.
  2. Always dress in this waterproof gear head to toe if you are going out on a skiff tour, even if they say "no landing." It can rain or you can get splashed -- and once this happens, you will get a body chill very quickly. This is not only painful, it is dangerous.
  3. Be prepared for a tour to leave at any time despite what you are told beforehand. Nature does not work by a schedule. If you miss something during your cruise it is too late and too bad.
  4. We recommend for those prone to seasickness that you avoid long sea voyages over known rough waters on Prince Albert II. The ship has stabilizers and ballast tanks, but its size makes it subject to constant motion in high seas.

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