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Experiential Journeys by Cruise or Expedition – It Ain’t Really About the Hardware. Seriously!

A sunset two years ago in Antarctica and the emotions surrounding that event by all who were there, was noted as a Memory on Facebook the other day. As I wrote:

It really brings back that very special moment when so many people who were there remember THAT sunset. THAT moment. It wasn’t just a pretty sunset for any of us that were fortunate to have been a part of it. 

 It inspired this article.

Lemaire Channel – Antarctica

Here is my article from back then: Seabourn’s Antarctica Revisited – Part V (Antarctica Weather, Wonder & WOW!) – Goldring Travel I think it is well worth reading…if not only to enjoy my photographs…for those moments when I hadn’t put my camera down!

My love of travel really started in my youth with my love of nature and, more specifically, marine biology. No, it was not about the culinary adventures (though I religiously watched Julia Child’s The French Chef) or the exotic cultures. It was a passion instilled in the late 1960s and early 1970s watching Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his adventures on the Calypso, a very old converted minesweeper built in 1941.  That’s right: An ancient ship that had pretty much nothing of appeal to it (though having a helicopter on a ship back then was pretty cool).  

MV Calypso (René Beauchamp – http://www.shipspotting.com)

What I was being taught by Cousteau was that one must “observe”; not just take a fleeting look. And, of course, when you are doing that, the ship you are on is not in your field of view and, in fact, is not terribly relevant to your observations; other than to take you to the place where you are making the observations. 

When I was in college doing research on yellow perch and the birds of the “swamps of Jersey” (a Springsteen reference, but alas they are actually marshes!) I learned – actually required – to always have a journal and to take quick notes to be supplemented with more in-depth observations upon returning to the lab. When I became a lawyer I didn’t go to depositions, hearings, or trials with lists of questions, but with short notes of areas to probe…and then I observed. I listened. And I picked up on the Little Things; rather than focusing on ticking off a list as if I was actually accomplishing anything worthwhile; while possibly missing what truly mattered. 

And you know what? My sitting in my 1972 Camaro while ice fishing in Upstate New York, rocking in an old marine science vessel or rowboat, sitting in mud of the marshes, or my table in the courtroom had little relevance as to what I was observing or what I placed in my journals.  They weren’t what I was there for! 

Sea Turtle – Galapagos

Living here in Tahoe, I am blessed with the ability to wander the forests, valleys, lakes, and streams year-round. I hear so many people use the term “hike” and, to be sure, many of the locals are focused on climbing the highest peaks, biking the fastest, hiking the longest distances. That is great for them, but for me, I think they actually miss the richness of Tahoe; those Little Things. (My friends and followers on Facebook get glimpses of them when I take a few moments…just moments…to capture some of them.)

John Muir, known as the Father of the National Parks, is famous for his love of nature. He was also well known for being the last person to make it to camp in the late afternoon when exploring an area because he always took his time. He actually did not like the term “hike”, but rather preferred “saunter”.   

“I don’t like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not ‘hike!’ Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre’, ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

Yes, I do feel like I am sauntering to get to the point of this article!

I whole-heartedly believe that when one is on an Expedition or Cruise of an extraordinary place, such as Antarctica or the Amazon, one will far better appreciate them if they are “observed reverently”. 

Seabourn Venture

Alas, in addition to the existing plethora of expedition ships, there is something like 46 expeditions ships coming online including the Seabourn Venture, Lindblad Expeditions’ Endurance and Resolution, Quark Expeditions’ Ultramarine, Atlas Ocean Voyages World Navigator, Scenic’s Eclipse, and oh so many more.  

So how to do you decide which expedition is right for you…and is any one ship going to make the difference in your experience. 

Seabourn Quest

First, define why you are interested in going on an Expedition. To my mind there are five types of people that choose expedition ships:

  1. You like the ship and/or timing and don’t really care much about the expedition;
  2. You want to see that area (Antarctica, Amazon, Southeast Asia, Great Barrier Reef), but don’t really care if you ever get off the ship;
  3. You want to set foot in the destination just one time;
  4. You want to embrace the destination; or,
  5. You want to conquer the destination (heli-skiing, trekking, etc.)

This is very important when weighing what aspects of your expedition or cruise ship you may be considering because how you use it, how frequently you will use it, and how important each aspect of the ship truly matters. Heck, a ship with awesome expedition amenities and a lack of any real entertainment or dining options may be perfect…or incredibly frustrating…dependent on the type of person you are.

Quark Ultramarine

Second, consider what aspects of the ship delivering you to and about the expedition destination are most important to you.  If you are in any of the first three categories, the interior amenities of the ship (entertainment, dining venues, hotel services, etc.) will generally be of far greater import. However, if you are in the latter two categories you will generally focus more on the ship functionality (mudrooms, zodiacs and boarding facilities, kayaks, etc.) Both groups will have those that are interested in onboard interactive experiences (such as the Seabourn Venture’s Bow Lounge which provides access to a mirror of the bridge radars, weather/ice stations, etc., lecture facilities, amenities for independent research, etc.)

Scenic Eclipse – Helicopter Heli Deck 2

What now should not be a shock to you: Don’t pick your Expedition or Cruise by the toys on the ship. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but that 15-minute helicopter ride or 30-minute submarine voyage may give you chills and some bragging rights, but it won’t be what will be etched in your soul by the end of your journey….unless, possibly, you are in Category 2 or 3.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m really looking forward to experiencing Seabourn Venture’s submarine, but not for bragging rights or the underwater champagne toast, but to “observe” the underwater world.  While I am not a fan of helicopter flights; especially over environmentally sensitive areas, the same holds true. But…and it is a BIG but: These things are, overall, eye-candy: They are primarily intended to sway you to choose that shipOf course, they will enhance your expedition or journey, but for the vast majority of guests it will be one of many memorable experiences that will touch them deeply.  Think about that incredible sunset mentioned above!

(A quick note on bragging rights: Your friends and co-workers won’t be as impressed as you think, the impact will be short-lived, the experience is not readily translatable to someone who hasn’t been there, and, more importantly, those 5 minutes of fame probably aren’t really why you decided to take the journey anyway.  So please focus on you and not them when engaged in the expedition experiences.)  

Some of the Seabourn Ventures’ Expedition Team

 Third, the  Bridge Officers and Expedition Team are actually the heart of your experience.  You want to have a team that is, well, a team. You need to be able to safely and efficiently get to where those magical experiences are.  And you need Experts, not generalists, in many different specialties to assist you better understanding and appreciating those experiences. Not only penguins and whale experts, but geology, glaciology, history, kayaking, even botany and weather experts. And they need to be personable and approachable. They need to be as enthusiastic about you being there are you are!

Let me paint a picture for you: You are in that submarine or the helicopter, or even a zodiac, and:

  • The pilot says nothing: It is an empty experience. 
  • The pilot won’t shut up: It is an annoying experience.  
  • The pilot doesn’t know what he is talking about: It is a frustrating experience.
  • The pilot isn’t really competent. It is a scary experience. 
  • The pilot is competent, knowledgeable, answers your questions, and gives you enough quiet to take it all in: It is MAGIC.
Imagine the questions you have before and during your expedition:
  • Why are those penguins carrying stones? 
  • What are those really cool flat clouds? 
  • How old is the ice that just broke off the glacier and is calving that a bad thing? 
  • I can’t imagine surviving here, so how did Shackleton and others do it?  
  • What is that red stuff coming out of that seal’s mouth…is it hurt? 
  • What kind of whale is that and what does it eat?
  • Are there any indigenous people and what are they like?
  • How has human activity affected the area; for the good and the bad?
  • Is that a stick or an insect or snake or bird that looks like a stick…and why?
Now image if members of Expedition Team aren’t readily available to you throughout the day or aren’t really patient with your “stupid questions” (the only stupid questions are the ones you don’t ask!) or can’t or don’t give you understandable or sufficiently complete answers or, worse, give you mis- or inaccurate information.  How about kayaking experts that are so into kayaking that they aren’t really concerned or engaged with novice folks or those interested, but unwilling or unable to kayak?
Yes, an excellent expedition team will answer those questions, give you information, and, hopefully, inspiration to wonder and inquire even more?
When I first started as a travel agent one of the mantras from Seabourn – which had small older ships with not many amenities and no real balconies – was “It is not about the hardware, but the software.” As the years have passed and many cruise lines have focused on having the latest and greatest hardware.  But in the end, the more you travel to the more exotic places, it is about the experts that guide you to the Little Things and help you embrace truly Once in a Lifetime Experiences.

Interested in a Luxury Journey by Cruise, Expedition, or Land?

Contact Goldring Travel For Truly Expert Advice!

Email: eric@goldringtravel.com 

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY or (530) 562-9232

UK: 020 8133 3450

AUS: (07) 3102 4685

WhatsApp: +1 732-693-8797

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