Interview: The Poseidon Expeditions “Small Ship” Cruise to the Arctic Circle for Just 100 People!
Poseidon Expeditions was one of our big discoveries at the Boston Travel Show, where we wrote about more than 39 of the exhibitors and saw dozens more. It really is possible to travel to Antarctica or the Arctic Circle as a tourist!
Their next cruise is the West Spitsbergen & Polar Ice Edge: Arctic Wildlife Adventure Cruise, which runs May 31-June 8, 2020. You travel through Norway to Svalbard (an island that is even farther north) to meet the ship, and then cruise through the Arctic for 9 days. Unlike large cruise lines where the ship itself is the entertainment, the Sea Spirit accommodates only 100 people, but you have a dozen or more “expedition staff” to give personal attention. They host workshops at night and guide you by day. The “edu-tainment” experience includes seeing polar bears, whales, reindeer, and other animals, astonishing, life-changing vistas, and learning about nature and science.
For Events INSIDER readers, Poseidon Expeditions has a special offer of up to 50% off its cruise, and their Managing Director in North America, Steve Wellmeier, kindly allowed an interview.
Events INSIDER: I didn’t even know it was possible to visit the Arctic Circle as just a tourist.
Steve Wellmeier: It’s becoming more popular. There are more and more companies getting into expedition cruising, including polar cruising. The cruise industry has become very fractured, but most people still think of the cruise industry as a seven-night cruise out of Miami or San Diego, up to Alaska, down to Mexico or the Caribbean, or the Mediterranean or the Baltic. Other companies that hosting a thousand people are now considered small ships, but by our standard, it’s gigantic.
Steve Wellmeier: And we specialize in the polar region. So there, it’s even more pronounced how different we are from the big cruises. We’re going to places where there is no tourism infrastructure: no hotels, no restaurants. The ship is your floating accommodation and platform that allows you to experience wildlife and great scenery. You can do that too on a big cruise ship in Alaska, but there’s something about traveling with just a hundred other people, instead of 3,000 other people, in terms of face time, for example, with the expedition staff.
Events INSIDER: So these are people separate from the crew, who manage the ship and serve meals? Your cruises have experts whose only purpose is to teach workshops, give lectures, and lead tours?
Steve Wellmeier: All our cruises have 12-13 expedition staff. They’re your curators for the trip, the experts who know that destination. They know the wildlife, being for example ornithologists, historians, or marine biologists. These are the people we hire to create the experience for the guests. They are separate and apart from the crew that run the ship and serve you in the dining room, the traditional cruise ship experience. The actual experience is designed and curated by the expedition staff. That’s unique to expedition cruises.
Events INSIDER: And you have special guest lecturers as well.
Steve Wellmeier: Not all the cruises have guest lecturers, but we try to set one cabin aside and bring somebody with an even more in-depth knowledge that would be relevant to that cruise. For example, on the Arctic trip, we have a polar bear reproduction specialist traveling with us, and that’s a twist. Our staff is fully capable of talking about polar bears in an interesting presentation, but to have a world specialist on board is an added treat. The passengers who come with us are curious. They want to learn. They want to know more. That’s their prime motive, an experience destination motive.
Events INSIDER: Going to the Arctic seems so exceptional. How unique is this trip?
Steve Wellmeier: Part of what goes with expedition cruising, is going there firsthand, and seeing it for yourself. You learn what it’s all about. How does the Arctic Ocean freeze back a little less each year? How does it affect polar bears’ ability to feed themselves? Polar bears hunt on the ice, for seals. That’s how they feed themselves. People are curious. They want to see polar bears in the wild. We can’t guarantee it, but typically they do. Sometimes they see a lot.
Steve Wellmeier: So it’s about being able to come home and talk firsthand about the issues that they’ll learn from the expedition staff. They’ll learn about the wildlife, conservation efforts, and see old 18th century whaling stations where they’d process blubber in big furnaces. And there are still remnants of some of these stone furnaces. So we’ll go to these places. We’ll learn about the history of these islands. People come home and they become ambassadors, talking about these issues.
Events INSIDER: Of course you can’t guarantee seeing animals, but it is likely, right?
Steve Wellmeier: Oh, you’ll definitely see some creatures. You’re see whales for sure. You’ll see reindeer in Svalbard. You’ll possibly see some Arctic Fox. You’ll see seals. You’ll see all kinds of seabirds. You’ll see towering cliffs, breeding cliffs, where thousands and thousands of pairs of breeding seabirds are on these cliffs. It’s cacophonous. It’s just amazing to see.
Steve Wellmeier: Of course polar bears are the #1 attraction. That’s what everyone wants to see. As we travel from one landing site to the next, we’re constantly looking for polar bear. We have staff up on the bridge who are constantly scanning the horizon looking for polar bear. If we see them, that’s where we go. Of course, we don’t disturb the polar bear. We just observe them. Sometimes we get really lucky. Sometimes we might only see them from afar. It’s unpredictable; it’s the wild.
Steve Wellmeier: We talk about the “ice edge”. The ice edge is where the polar bears hunt. So we cruise along the ice edge, in expectation of seeing polar bears. I can’t think of any cruises where we haven’t seen any polar bears. Sometimes we see three or four. Sometimes we see eight or twelve.
Events INSIDER: You’ve been clear that this is not purely an entertainment cruise. People who sail with you are curious, not just out to party.
Steve Wellmeier: I don’t want to make it sound like these presentations and lectures are dry. We even use the word “edu-tainment” sometimes. It’s designed for thinking people, people who are interested in history and culture. It’s not a Carnival Cruise Line type of shore excursion. We have a large wine list on board, and cocktails and beer. It’s a nice atmosphere: good food, good booze. What else do you need?
Events INSIDER: You have kayaking on the Arctic cruises, too!
Steve Wellmeier: Kayaking has gotten popular in the last ten years, in polar expedition cruises in both the Arctic and in Antarctica. We only have room for 8 people. That’s 4 kayaks, plus one guide leading the group and a Zodiac that follows them around. You’ll go out three or four times during your cruises, part of a group that’s paid additional money to have that activity. This is an option, when the rest of the people are going ashore during a landing. It’s an optional activity for those who enjoy kayaking and want to get further away from the ship and the group. If you enjoy a little more physical activity, that’s who this is for.
Events INSIDER: I noticed that round-trip flights from Boston to Svalbard are not that expensive: just $1,200.
Steve Wellmeier: It’s the northernmost commercial airport in the world, and you’ve got aircraft coming in 24 hours a day, because it’s daylight all the time.
Events INSIDER: Right, you’re so far north that in the summer the sun is always above the horizon, even at night. Do the bedrooms have good light-blocking drapes so you can sleep?
Steve Wellmeier: (laughs) Yea, they do.
Events INSIDER: Can people expect Wi-Fi or cell phone reception for the trip?
Steve Wellmeier: Yes, we have Wi-Fi access. It works pretty well. Sometimes it doesn’t work because of the location that we’re at, where the ship gets behind some mountains and the signal to the satellites is disrupted. But it works pretty well, and allows people to read their email, check social media, and send their photos. That costs extra. Spirits, beer, wine, soft drinks, that’s extra cost. Laundry and gratuities are extra. And emergency medical evacuation insurance for the polar cruises, which is under $100, in case we need to get a helicopter to cover that eventuality. But everything else is included.
Events INSIDER: Thank you.
Cabins are up to 50% off for Events INSIDER readers, with many different levels of suite comfort:
|Cabin Type||Regular Rate||Special Events INSIDER Rate||Discount|
|Triple||$ 5,895||$ 3,395||42%|
|Main Deck||$ 8,095||$ 4,095||49%|
|Classic Suite||$ 8,695||$ 4,695||46%|
|Superior Suite||$ 8,795||$ 4,795||45%|
|Deluxe Suite||$ 9,895||$ 5,895||40%|
|Premium Suite||$ 10,995||$ 6,995||36%|
For more, see the West Spitsbergen & Polar Ice Edge: Arctic Wildlife Adventure Cruise, and read our interview about the Poseidon Expeditions’ British Isles Cruise, coming in May.