Photo Tour: Exploring the Arctic on Seabourn Venture

Editor's Note: Luxury Travel Advisor sailed in July 2023 on a 15-day "Greenland and Iceland: Vikings and Volcanoes" itinerary operated by the 264-passenger, ultra-luxury Seabourn Venture. In this first article in a two-part series, we look at the expedition experience, itinerary highlights and the onboard service. Stay tuned for another piece soon about the interior spaces, accommodations, dining and more

As Seabourn Venture sailed deep into Greenland's Eternity Fjord in July 2023, Luxury Travel Advisor was aboard for Seabourn's 15-day “Greenland and Iceland: Viking and Volcanoes” expedition voyage." The cruise line's brochures certainly promoted a journey to eco-adventure in style and comfort. Gazing at tall, jagged Arctic peaks, wisps of low fluffy clouds, a bird rookery and blue-tinged glaciers, we felt the 264-passenger Seabourn Venture clearly delivered on that promise—and did so day after day.

For our morning Zodiac ride, we had donned our light orange Seabourn parkas for traveling "up close" to a massive glacier at the fjord’s terminus. Along nearby granite cliffs, we also spotted, and heard, hundreds of black-footed kittiwakes, common guillemots, Brünnich's guillemots and razorbills as they tended their nests and chicks. In another area of the fjord, other guests explored via sea kayaks, expertly guided by the ship's expedition team members. 

Exploring Eternity Fjord via Zodiac from Seabourn Venture.  Photo by Susan J. Young.
Seabourn Venture's guests head out by Zodiac within Greenland's Eternity Fjord, home to magnificent glaciers and waterfalls.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

After a successful morning of exploring, everyone arrived back on board. As we enjoyed a delicious lunch in The Colonnade, Seabourn Venture sailed tor Maniitsoq, a small fishing village. Upon our arrival there, Zodiacs shuttled guests back and forth from ship to shore. A local Inuit guide explained the village’s history, and cruisers learned about how residents survive in a small Arctic enclave, particularly in wintertime. Guests also perused the day’s catch in a tiny fresh fish market.

Back aboard, we relaxed in our suite and just couldn't seem to get enough of the ever-changing Arctic scenery viewable from our private balcony. Pre-dinner, we headed to The Club to meet up with colleagues and friends for drinks. Settling into a cozy seating area, the entire group listened to live music by a pianist, enjoyed drinks and savored freshly made sushi and sashimi, prepared by chefs at the venue's bar area 

Then it was on to dinner, where a P.A. system announcement beckoned us to step outside for a moment. Multiple whales had been spotted near the ship. Simply put, it was an incredible day, one of many we had both aboard and ashore during our "Greenland and Iceland: Vikings and Volcanoes" voyage.

Best of all, there was no “roughing it." The vessel is Seabourn's first expedition ship; sister Seabourn Pursuit launched this year, too. 

The Polar Choice

For clients “on the fence" and wondering whether to explore the Arctic—or, alternatively, Antarctica—for their next vacation, here's our first-hand, anecdotal feedback. Both regions offer fabulous experiences, of course, but “getting there” deserves mention. We flew from South Florida to Reykjavik, Iceland, for our Arctic journey. Overall, it proved a much shorter overall journey to Greenland and boarding of the ship than our trip just nine months ago to Antarctica.    

Arriving at Reykjavik, Iceland, via a connecting flight that had departed Newark, NJ, we spent only one night in the Icelandic capital. The next day we took Seabourn’s private charter flight to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. From there, we boarded the ship and began our expedition adventure.

During our recent Antarctica experience, we spent two overnights in two different cities before we reached our ship on the "White Continent." Of course, the distance needed to get to either region varies by each guest’s home locale, flight routing and itinerary. Also, the Norwegian Arctic is farther from North America than Greenland/Iceland. But from our end, Greenland/Iceland was a good choice. 

Heimaey Island, Iceland
Seabourn Venture's guests learned about the Viking lifestyle on Heimaey Island, Iceland. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Other polar differences? The Arctic also has a human element: Intuit culture, Viking heritage and local residents living in cities, towns and villages along the voyage route. So, cruisers get a deep dive into culture and heritage. In contrast, Antarctica has no permanent residents, only scientific research stations.

That said, Antarctica has stunning gorgeous scenic beauty, different wildlife than the Arctic (penguins rather than puffins) and an almost total lack of civilization, which also appeals to many travelers. Bottom line? It's difficult to compare. Each has its own rewards as a vacation experience. So, pick your passion. 

Eco-Adventure Plus Cultural Immersion

When we arrived at Reykjavik, the eco- and cultural journey began immediately. A Seabourn car transfer took us on a 45-minute ride to the downtown pre-cruise hotel. Along the way, we saw small homes dotting the lava-hardened landscape. In the distance, we noticed a smoking volcano. The almost surrealistic landscape reflected Mother Nature’s power for sure. 

We asked our driver why the “locals” wouldn’t want to want to try to remove some of the hardened rock that seemed inconveniently edging their homes, blocking a door, or covering a sidewalk or driveway. Couldn't the lava be chiseled away or removed in some way. In our first cultural lesson, the driver explained that residents never touch the lava rock formations around their homes. The locals often believe that elves live amid the lava fields. Changing the landscape by removing the rocks could remove hiding places for the elves, who then would not be happy with the humans living nearby.

After staying one night in downtown Reykjavik, we returned to the airport the next morning via another Seabourn transfer. Soon, we were off on a two-hour Seabourn charter flight to Kangerlussuaq in eastern Greenland. The small airport was once a World War II-era U.S. military settlement. After deplaning, we boarded several shuttle buses conveniently lined up on the airport ramp; they were ready to transport all guests to a small local pier, where we'd board a tender to Seabourn Venture. 

But prior to that we toured the island a bit—traveling through town, but then into rural, desolate landscapes with towering hills. We truly didn't expect to see wildlife immediately. So, everyone was thrilled to spot a large musk ox, which was munching on hillside vegetation. On the ride to the ship, we also spotted one reindeer, and then, a bit farther along, yet another solitary reindeer.  

We'd suggest telling clients to bring along a small spray bottle or wipes of insecticide in their personal carry-on bag. Did you know the Arctic has mosquitos? We had no clue, honestly. But when the shuttle bus stopped so people could get out to snap photos of the musk ox and reindeer, the doors were left open. Presto, mosquitos invaded. It seems that they're more prolific than in the past due to climate warming in the Arctic region.

Throughout the cruise, we’d hoped to see polar bears, perhaps on the pack ice. But, alas, that simply didn’t materialize. It's a lesson for all who take a cruise to the end of the Earth: Wildlife or marine life sightings aren’t guaranteed.

That said, besides the musk ox and reindeer on that first day in Greenland, we later spotted a seal on an ice floe, Iceland gulls, multiple other bird species, and magnificent sperm and humpback whales. And on the canine side, there was an opportunity for guests to learn about Arctic sled dogs and meet some, too.  

Seabourn Venture's Expedition Product

Seabourn Venture is shown docked at Barbados in fall 2022.
Luxury Travel Advisor sailed in 2022 on Seabourn Venture (shown above docked in Barbados), and we took a second look in summer 2023.   (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Luxury Travel Advisor first sailed on the new Seabourn Venture during the latter part of the ship's 2022 "shake-down" period. That voyage traveled from Barbados to Callao (Lima), Peru. We published a piece then about our firsthand gleanings. But that itinerary wasn't polar and there were fewer expedition outings.

So, we felt it a good idea to sail again this year to check things out. We definitely noticed great progression: the ship’s hotel management, operations, guest offerings and expedition product all hummed along nicely.

On our summer 2023 cruise, Seabourn Venture carried an experienced expedition team of 24 experts, among them naturalists, a geologist, biologist, ornithologist and others. Each day, guests enjoyed a diverse mix of adventure offerings—everything from hikes to kayaking, Zodiac rides and more. 

Factoid? The vessel carries a fleet of 24 Zodiacs, stored on its top deck. That's enough for all guests to board and explore at the same time, if desired. That said, it does take a bit more time for crew to lower them to the ocean than if they were stored in a garage below. Seabourn Venture also has a fleet of one- and two-person yellow sea kayaks. In addition, the ship carries two submersibles; underwater explorations are offered on certain days at an added cost. 

As for expedition equipment to be used by guests during the cruise, Seabourn provided complimentary parkas for guests, who could then take them home. The parkas were waiting in our suites on embarkation day. Size exchanges were "easy peasy."

Boots were loaned to guests for the length of the voyage. Those, too, could be exchanged for other sizes in the Mud Room. Good to know, though, is that guests need to bring, rent or buy their own waterproof pants; we bought our pants for $87 in the ship’s boutique. Guests also must bring their own ski poles if they wish to use them for balance during hikes or village walks.

The red on this map represents Greenland's pack ice, which Seabourn Venture had to maneuver around.
Seabourn Venture had to manuever around the "red" (very close drift ice) shown in this chart from a daily recap.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

After exploring throughout the day, guests typically migrated to the Discovery Center (the theater) each evening before dinner. Expedition Leader Luciano Bernacci offered a nightly "recap" presentation about the day's activities. His commentary was accompanied by slides, maps and photos posted on multiple big screens.

So, he might point out "very close drift ice" in red, while a slide showed what he was speaking about (as shown in the photo above). He'd also talk about some of the day’s top experiences. It was a great way for guests to savor and “relive” the day.

Other expedition team members also offered presentations, such as about birds of the Arctic or the destination's geology. Then, Bernacci or other team members discussed the following day’s options, so guests could decide what appealed for their next day of exploring. 

Gorgeous Vistas Plus Cultural Immersion

Stunningly gorgeous natural scenery awaits on a cruise to Greenland.
We couldn't resist snapping photos of gorgeous Greenland scenery from our suite's private veranda on Seabourn Venture. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Expeditions to Greenland and Iceland have magnificent scenic views. For instance, at Prince Christian Sound or Ikerassaquaq in Greenlandic, prominent peaks soar at the southernmost terminus of the country’s icepack. We also looked out to see gorgeous glaciers and waterfalls.

But an Arctic cruise is also about a dive into Norse heritage and culture. The Vikings explored parts of North America 500 years prior to Columbus’ discoveries in the New World. When Seabourn Venture arrived at the first Norse settlement in Greenland, Brattahlid, guests ventured ashore for a Zodiac landing. They then headed out to see the remains of explorer Eric the Red’s farmstead, a nearby church and reconstructed longhouse.

Another more modern heritage highlight was going ashore at Kangerluasoruseq, founded in 1927 by fisherman. However, fishing ended there in the 1990s. By 2009, the town was abandoned. Today, yes, it’s a ghost town.

The ship's expedition team (carrying firearms for personal protection and to create noise, if needed) went ashore to scare off any polar bears lurking around town or in the abandoned structures. None were found, so guests soon ventured ashore and explored the town and those old buildings. Both spooky and historically interesting, the outing proved a highlight for several guests who chatted about it at dinner one night. 

Personally, Luxury Travel Advisor truly enjoyed our Seabourn excursion ashore at Heimaey Island in Iceland’s Westman Islands. A volcanic eruption with massive lava flows destroyed half the town of Vestmannaeyjar in 1973. It happened suddenly in the middle of the night, but thankfully all 4,000 residents were safely evacuated safely to the mainland. Today, Heimaey is a vibrant town once again, but evidence of the eruption is front and center in the cliffs surrounding the harbor and hardened lava in the scenery around town.

On Heimaey Island, Iceland, Seabourn Venture's guests could visit a museum (bottom lefthand corner) to peer into a home buried under lava in a 1976 eruption.
On Heimaey Island, guests of Seabourn Venture could take an around-island tour that included a stop at a museum (bottom left corner). It's built atop homes covered by lava during a major volcanic eruption in 1973. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

As our Seabourn tour headed out of town, we gazed at a modern soccer field (sports are a rabid passion in Heimaey) before viewing Viking ruins and reconstructed Viking houses, cute puffins nesting along the cliffs, ponies and sheep grazing in fields, and scenic overlooks for views of neighboring islands and the Icelandic mainland just four miles away.

Most impressive, though, was touring Vestmannaeyjar’s excellent museum that details the story and showcases artifacts from the 1973 eruption. Built atop homes consumed by the lava, it provides a unique glimpse into the eruption. Museum goers can peer inside a home covered by the lava flow. At the tour’s conclusion, Seabourn put on a private champagne reception atop the museum.

One could-be-improved suggestion to assist guests heading out for activities or tours? We—along with some guests who spoke to us about this, including one very fit, active couple—would have liked more detailed descriptions of the level of intensity for shoreside expedition activities. More specifics could help guests make better informed decisions before heading out.

Flexibility Rules in Polar Zones

On any Arctic region expedition, clients need to be told that the planned itinerary can, and like will, change at some point in the voyage. Itineraries to polar regions often shift based on weather, sea conditions or ice pack progression. Seabourn made the decision, which we appreciated, to avoid some ports that Seabourn Venture simply couldn't reach on the previous voyage. Instead, the captain smartly opted to try other spots and maneuver into unique places farther north in western Greenland, and away from drifting pack ice heading south on the eastern side.

Thus, we had additional time ashore and time to explore deeper in one fjord. In one case, the route we were going to take wasn't "charted" for cruise ships. So, for safety's sake, a small Zodiac with Seabourn bridge crew members aboard headed out in front of Seabourn Venture. That Zodiac carried sonar equipment to assure the underwater path was safe. We felt that we were intrepid explorers!

One highlight for our cruise was an unexpected call at Sisimiut, a town of about 6,000 residents, and Greenland’s second largest population center in western Greenland. It’s about 24 miles above the Arctic Circle, and Seabourn provided a nice “achievement” certificate about crossing the circle; it was delivered to all guest suites. In this region of Greenland, wide valleys and soaring mountains attract both hikers and cross-country skiers.

Guests from Seabourn Venture begin the walk up to Sisimuit, Greenland.
Seabourn Venture's guests head out on foot, walking into Sisimuit in western Greenland.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Many Seabourn guests set out on “Sisimuit on Foot: A Taste of Greenland,” which included a walking tour of town and a sampling of everything from reindeer meat to shrimp and whale blubber. Another option was a “Tele Island Hike” to explore Thule-era archeological remains including sod houses, long houses and whale blubber stores.

The adventures aren’t simply shore options or Zodiac rides, though. For those itineraries that venture above the Arctic Circle, Seabourn fields an onboard Order of the Blue Nose Ceremony. This fun event celebrates maritime heritage. Let’s just say that King Neptune and his royal court made an appearance, too.

What we didn’t do but dozens of other brave souls did on our cruise did is the “Polar Plunge.” Guests opt (or not) to jump into frigid polar waters. It’s a “must do” for many, a “no thank you” for others. It’s totally up to the guest. But those taking the plunge clearly have bragging rights with friends and family members back home, as well as fellow guests aboard. 

Seabourn Moments and More 

Natalya Leahy, Seabourn's president, talks to guests on Seabourn Venture.
Natalya Leahy, Seabourn's president, talks with guests on Seabourn Venture about those special Seabourn Moments." (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Natalya Leahy, Seabourn's new president, sailed aboard our cruise, also billed as "The President's Cruise." She chatted with guests, brainstormed with the onboard management, and gained "intel" from crew members. We interviewed Leahy just a few months ago about her vision for the brand; she spoke passionately about the ultra-luxury line's continuing goal to create those “Seabourn Moments,” or special encounters and bonding between guests and crew members. 

We had our own "Seabourn Moment" one night in The Restaurant. A server had been given our table assignment by a podium crew member. So, he grabbed menus and off we went, headed to a specific table. Suddenly, in the distance, we noticed another server at the back of the restaurant frantically waving his hands above his head. He then strongly pointing with one hand, repeatedly, to another table. Then it suddenly hit us: That table had been our absolute favorite table during our Seabourn Venture cruise in 2022. Presto, that interaction was a definite "Seabourn Moment."

Seabourn's crew members pride themselves in remembering the little details that can craft a personalized cruise experience. Throughout our two-week cruise, the onboard service by Seabourn Venture’s crew was exceptional. We had a superb butler and cabin steward. Plus, we received friendly, competent and helpful service from crew members at Seabourn Square, the spa, dining venues, shore excursion desk and elsewhere. Expedition team members were confident in their roles, as well as friendly and helpful (as we explained in discussing the boots earlier in this article). 

Stay tuned for "Part 2" of this two-part series coming soon. It will offer more anecdotal Seabourn Venture ramblings. We'll chat about the ship’s elegant, comfortable interior spaces, the V-4 Deluxe Veranda Suite and top Wintergarden Suites and onboard dining. Plus, we'll outline where the ship is at now and where it's heading next. 

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