Arctic cruising from the travel industry perspective
We’ve heard what it’s like to cruise the polar regions from the perspective of the passengers, the guides, the captains. But what about the professionals responsible for finding, researching, or booking these voyages in the first place? Surely these mavens of the travel industry, who love seeing new corners of the world so much they’ve adopted as a career what for many people is merely a beloved hobby, have much to say about what sets polar voyages apart from the standard travel fare. To find out, we sat down with Mariola Burejko, business development director for LiveAboard.com, and asked a few questions about her recent Arctic cruise around the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.
What led to your decision to embark on an Arctic cruise?
I had the pleasure of closing a deal with Oceanwide Expedition last April to sell available spaces on their vessels, so I was invited to join one of their trips as an observer on Plancius.
Did you have any definite expectations before you set out?
I’d visited Plancius a few weeks before my trip started, while the vessel was drydocked in the Netherlands. So I knew what to expect regarding the onboard comforts. But I like to go with the flow and not do too much homework before my voyages, so I didn’t set any real expectations. I was just looking forward to seeing what the experience had to offer.
A number of highlights, surely.
Many! We saw lots of wildlife, which was amazing. I just loved the peaceful fjord we went to, such a gorgeous place. We had a particularly wonderful sunny day once, which for me was the best day of my whole Svalbard trip. I had hoped to see a polar bear up close – well, reasonably close – but there’s no controlling that. Nature is nature, after all. We did see a bear from far away, and that was an amazing experience. I feel very grateful for the opportunity.
As a travel professional, you’d already done a fair share of traveling. How did your Arctic cruise stack up?
It was a different type of travel than I’m used to. I usually don’t plan my trips too thoroughly. I’m more of a backpacker type. This trip was different for me, then, because aboard the ship you have a pretty set schedule as far as daily meals and excursions. You also get to know the other passengers pretty well, since you see them during outings, dinners, at the bar…
Rumor has it, polar cruise bars can be pretty happening places.
Depends on what you mean by "happening."
"What happens in the Arctic stays in the Arctic" sort of thing?
Again, we need to agree on a definition of "happen." (laughing) But, yes. Something like that.
Maybe a story for the next article. Aside from your polar bear sighting, any favorite wildlife moments?
One day we took the Zodiacs to shore and walked up the beach to a herd of walruses. We stopped far enough away so as not to disturb them, of course, but we still had a great view and were able to take a lot of memorable pictures from different angles.
You mentioned getting to know people on board. Was there anyone with whom you particularly connected?
Leticia, this wonderful Argentinian woman who was traveling with her husband and two kids. We spent lots of time together. She used to work on the cruise ship in Antarctica and had seen a lot of wildlife during her time there.
Did the two of you see any Arctic wildlife together?
We actually had a blue whale sighting during our cruise, one of my other favorite Svalbard moments. After that, Leticia and I were constantly referring back to the sighting in our conversations and comparing our photos with the photos other passengers had taken. It was a spectacular, breathtaking moment.
So, in a nutshell, the Arctic cruise experience is…?
The silence of the snowy landscape. The crackling of sea ice under your vessel. The incredibly beautiful wildlife all around you. The delicious meals with wonderful people from all over the world. What else can I say? It was just perfect.