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Insider’s Expedition: Interview with Toto van der Horst-Vermue

by Oceanwide Expeditions Blog

As part of our reservations department, one of Toto’s responsibilities is helping book our guests on the many Antarctic and Arctic cruises we offer, so firsthand experience of these trips is highly relevant to her job.

Ship: m/v Ortelius

Regions: Arctic

Destinations: Svalbard

A colleague’s take on our Arctic Basecamp cruise

You might expect our colleagues to be biased when it comes to polar expedition travel, giving our trips nothing but rave reviews regardless of what they really think. In truth, however, our staff tend to be our own harshest critics, scrutinizing with laser focus the voyages we offer our guests.

So when a coworker embarks on one of our cruises, we jump at the opportunity to get their honest opinion – what they liked, what they didn’t like, whether the soup was cold or delicious.

That’s why we wasted no time talking to Toto van der Horst-Vermue, who joined Oceanwide in March 2020 and recently embarked on our North Spitsbergen Basecamp trip. As part of our reservations department, one of Toto’s responsibilities is helping book our guests on the many Antarctic and Arctic cruises we offer, so firsthand experience of these trips is highly relevant to her job.

We sat with Toto to get her (at least marginally) unbiased opinion on her Arctic experience.

You had been to Northern Norway before but never Svalbard. What were your first impressions of the high Arctic?

Just amazing. The scenery, the wildlife… I also hadn’t had much connection with Ortelius before, but I fell in love with the vessel during this trip.

Svalbard, and in particular North Spitsbergen, is one of the best places on the planet for seeing polar bears. Did you get lucky with the wildlife?

We saw in total seven polar bears during this trip – two from really far away, using binoculars, and a few bears feeding on a whale carcass. We also saw a mom lying with her cubs. They were a bit far away too, but we could still see them pretty well.

Any whale sightings on this trip?

The last day, actually, we had a wide variety of world species. We saw a humpback, fin whale, minke whale, and we even saw what we believed were two blue whales. It was really nice to end the trip like that.

Any of the more commonly spotted species like Arctic foxes or reindeer?

Yeah, we saw quite a few reindeer but no Arctic foxes. They saw Arctic foxes on the previous trip but not this time around.

Our Basecamp cruises are known for their activities: kayaking, hiking, photo workshops, and more. Which activities did you participate in?

My husband and I did the longer hike and the photo workshop. We also did the Zodiac cruising that’s a standard of our expeditions. There were a few afternoons where kayaking was not possible due to winds, but everybody who signed up for it got to go.

Any especially memorable shore landings?

They were all memorable. The terrain is so strange in Svalbard. I feel like that’s what Mars would look like, you know? And we saw so many different bird species. We also walked to a group of about 30 walruses at Smeerenburg and saw a couple of them in the water too.

What are the highlights that come to mind when you look back on this cruise?

I mean, the polar bears and walruses were amazing. But what I was so surprised about was the pack ice. It wasn’t supposed to be part of this itinerary. Our Polar Bear Special “Into the Pack Ice” trips are the ones where we actually go into the ice for a couple days. But our expedition leader, Rinie van Meurs, knew it was something most people like to see, so we did it.

This was part of reason I liked Ortelius so much. She’s the perfect ship for trips like this. She’s not an icebreaker, of course, but she’s definitely good at cutting through loose ice. There was no engine noise, only the sound of ice cracking. That was beautiful.

Has being to Svalbard changed how you’ll approach the job?

It’s definitely going to change the way I work, yeah. It’s going to be easier to talk to the passengers and agents now. It’s a completely different way of approaching the conversation, because I’ve been there and I know what it’s like and can describe things in my own words.

We say this all the time, but these trips really are once-in-a-lifetime experiences. And now when I say that, it’s not just a marketing slogan.

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