Friday 14 November 2014

Are Expedition Cruisers the ultimate travel snobs?


Opinion by Expedition Cruising editor, Roderick Eime

Expedition cruisers may still be a rare species, but their numbers are on the rise.

It’s the perennial barbeque stopper in which I always find myself embroiled. Is expedition cruising really cruising? The question is almost Darwinian. Where does expedition cruising fit in the taxonomy of travel? It’s like saying a dolphin is related to a hippo. Oh wait, you mean they are? Okay.

In trying to explain this conundrum, I usually say something pithy like big ship cruising is akin to staying at a resort where everything is laid on while expedition cruising is ‘adventure at sea’ and you have to go discovering stuff.

These discussions started a long time ago when the distinction between expedition and regular cruising was easier to define. In my pompous imagination, big ship cruising was for unimaginative types who needed their hand held and, like Pavlov’s dog, only ate when the dinner bell rang.

Expedition cruising, on the other hand, was for direct descendants of Shackleton and Scott, who would cheerfully withstand katabatic winds and live off soggy pemmican just so they could tick off a lesser speckled shag from their species list.

These days, just like the increasingly homogenised world in which we live, work and travel, the dolphins and hippos are less distinct. While there are still dolphins and hippos at either end of the evolutionary spectrum, like Darwin’s little finches, peculiar sub-species are evolving in between.

Just as some cruisers are drawn to the massive ‘Gigantors’ of the seas, others prefer a mid-size, calmer ‘gentle wind’. Others still will opt for a flowing Scandinavian river experience or a private and intimate charter.

Akademik Vavilov en route to South Georgia (Roderick Eime)
Having conversed with hundreds of passengers aboard the small ships in ridiculously remote locations, one thing can be almost universally counted on: those who consider themselves true expeditioners heap scorn on the masses who throng the big ships.

I can count on one frostbitten hand the number of travellers who have regaled me about their last cruise on the RMS Queen Gwendolyn and how they were absolutely mortified the caviar was only salmon roe and not Russian sturgeon. I mean, honestly!

Sometimes these mismatched voyagers will find themselves on the wrong ship in the wrong place, often with comical results. Poor expedition staff find themselves dealing with some bizarre events and behaviour.

Zodiac excursions can get a bit wild sometimes (Coral Princess Cruises)
The passenger who dolled herself up for the shore excursion, indignantly arranged herself in the grubby Zodiac, then promptly returned to the ship when it was clear she would have to get her feet wet and sandy.

Or, the horrified passenger who returned, trembling, to the ship because they had come face-to-face with ‘savages’ living in ‘poverty’.

Savages! (David Kirkland)
Another guest was bitterly disappointed at the lack of shopping opportunities on an Antarctic trip. Although I have to say, this guest clearly had not visited Port Lockroy recently which has, in the decade between my visits, evolved from a quaint folk museum into an antipodean emporium full of T-shirts, keyrings and snow globes.

The tiny shop at the British Antarctic base, Port Lockroy,
has grown into a mini-emporium for polar cruisers
But the greatest number of complaints, according to my sources across virtually all expedition cruise companies, is the small ships’ inability to visit the advertised ports or stick to a publicised schedule.

As the most developed branch of the order of primates, the species homo sapiens (IUCN conservation status: ‘least concern’) has developed a distinct aversion to disruption of routine. When things don’t go to plan or the unexpected occurs, this flighty mammal is prone to fits if pique and paralysis of decision rendering them pretty much useless. How they landed a man on the moon or split the atom is beyond me.

So, if you are of the genus that wants to huddle in the cocoon of security, safe in the knowledge that the midnight buffet will be served before pumpkin time, expedition cruising is definitely not for you.

For more information about Small Ship, Adventure and Expedition cruising, see Adventure Cruise Guide

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