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Aurora Expeditions – Goldring Travel Checks It Out: Part II – An Update and Getting Ready

It has been a while, and a lot of travel, since I mentioned my checking out Aurora Expeditions, the Australian two expedition ship, line.

Sylvia Earle - Passing her while on an Antarctic expedition
Sylvia Earle – Passing her while on an Antarctic expedition

I will be flying to Iceland, and boarding the Sylvia Earle, a new 132-guest expedition ship for an exploration of western Iceland, Jan Mayen (the northernmost active volcano), and Svalbard. Aurora Expeditions – Goldring Travel Checks It Out: Part I

Polar Bear in Svalbard Archipeligo
Polar Bear in Svalbard Archipeligo

This will be my fourth time visiting Iceland and my second in Svalbard. As my last visit to western Iceland was by land (and more touristic) and my time in Svalbard was a bit frustrated by a less than fully experienced expedition staff, I am really looking forward to Aurora Expeditions’ team showing me what they’ve got!

Gullfoss Waterfalls, Iceland
Gullfoss Waterfalls, Iceland – This time it won’t be frozen!

Sylvia Earle, the ship, is a modern, X-bow, hulled ship with all the expected amenities on a premium to luxury ship (sauna, hot tubs, fitness center, beautiful public spaces, etc.). Almost all of the accommodations have balconies starting at a bit over 200 sq. ft. (I will go over her details in my next article.)

I will be staying in a Junior Suite with a generous two-room, balconied, 448 sq. ft. of space. It comes with a bottle of champagne and a fully stocked mini-bar. Impressive for a smaller expedition ship.

Sylvia Earle Junior Suite
Sylvia Earle Junior Suite

You may recall that Sylvia Earle, the person, – one of the preeminent educators and defenders of the oceans – has been named the godmother of the new, environmentally focused, Explora Journeys’ Explora I. Well, Aurora Expeditions has taken it even further, naming the ship I will be sailing on Sylvia Earle.

Here is more information about Sylvia Earle:

Dr. Earle stated about Aurora Expeditions:

Traveling with Aurora Expeditions is an incredible opportunity for people to learn about these extraordinary marine habitats in situ and, as a result, become ambassadors for protecting them. Immerse yourself in the ocean and be connected to the places that you go. And don’t go just to absorb – go to give back and share what you’ve learned elsewhere, connect with the locals, and open people’s minds. It’s a wonderful opportunity to embrace the world and see it with new eyes.

As I have been anxiously awaiting this expedition, I have been doing my homework. I have to say that so far I am truly impressed with Aurora Expeditions; especially with two important things:

  • All my interactions have been both nice and efficient; and
  • The pre-Expedition materials are some of the best I have seen.

Setting the pre-departure stage – which can be one of the more frustrating parts of an expedition – has been a real strong point for Aurora. About three weeks before my Expedition I received an extremely comprehensive itinerary with virtually everything anyone needs to know, including, but not limited to:

  • Integrating my arrival and departure flights
  • Confirmed transfers to the pre-expedition hotel and post-expedition to the airport
  • Information about the pre-expedition hotel
  • Information about the pre-expedition land tour
  • Significant information on the history, culture, and cuisine of the destinations visited
  • The “Game Plan” for each region we will be visiting: Western Iceland, Jan Mayan, Svalbard, and Sea Days.

Aurora makes this information available in three ways: A very convenient app for your phone (in which you have the option of having all the information available offline), online on your computer, and in downloadable paper form.

Emphasized is Aurora Expedition’s commitment to Sustainable Travel. Yes, there has been a lot of talk from all cruise and expedition lines, but many of them are engaging in “greenwashing”, or making it sound like they are taking actions toward being more environmentally responsible than they really are.

Aurora, however, is truly at the fore beingone of the very fewB Corp Certified cruise or expedition lines. In order to be B Corp certified, companies “are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” This requires far more than having some of the latest technologies onboard along with Aurora’s commitment to near-zero single-use plastics, fuel efficiencies, environmentally friendly amenities, etc.

While it is hard to calculate, Aurora Expeditions states it is 100% Carbon Neutral – something the cruise industry is trying to achieve by 2050; essentially a quarter century from now.

Aurora also has a robust Citizen Science Program. I have been on ships that claim to have one and, to be honest, they have generally been hidden away or are available for only one or two days. On Aurora, there is a dedicated, very public, area with equipment for all to engage with.

And, Aurora is dedicated to supporting Women in Conservation.

Getting to Iceland should be easy as flights are available on Icelandair from many major airports, as well as flights on Delta and United, among others. However, I have made it a bit more challenging in an effort to keep my United Premier 1K status…and I think I may have made a mistake! (I’m not the first to say this, unfortunately.)

I have a very early morning flight from Reno to Denver, a 4+ hour layover, an early afternoon flight from Denver to Chicago, a 4+ hour layover, and then the final flight to Reykjavik. My logic was simple: Make sure I had options if either of my first two flights were delayed or if the infamous afternoon thunderstorms in Denver caused problems. What I didn’t count on was United changing the aircraft to Iceland three times in 12 hours and ultimately winding up in a non-reclining exit row seat with literally no chance of being upgraded to Polaris. (As I have said to many clients: Don’t look for what seem to be ideal flights, focus on disaster-proofing your relatively short time in metal tubes, so you can enjoy your actual journey.)

When I get to Iceland, Aurora Expeditions provides a one-night stay at the Hotel Reykjavik Grand, where you check in for the expedition. I will be on my own for the day (I arrive at 8:30 AM) and have arranged to have lunch with one of the best luxury tour operators in Iceland. Then – of course – I am having a local dinner in one of Reykjavik’s best restaurants, Food Cellar. (I think I dined in the same spot years ago when it was called Seafood Cellar. If it is half as good, I will be happy.)

The next morning, while Sylvia Earle prepares for our arrival, Aurora Expeditions provides the classic Golden Circle tour with an added Geothermal Energy Tour. For those who have never been to Iceland, it is a great addition.

We will then have a late afternoon embarkation…and the expedition will begin!

Up next: Reykjavik

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