Sweden-based PolarQuest was founded in 1999 with the mandate to explore the polar regions via small ships and with small groups of passengers. This allows a high degree of flexibility so each and every voyage is unique. PolarQuest is part of Unlimited Travel Group (UTG), which consists of 12 companies that cater to all sorts of travel from skiing the Alps to golfing across Europe.
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No matter which ship you board in PolarQuest's fleet, you'll find a friendly and boisterous atmosphere. Passengers tend to have a shared passion for wildlife and outdoor exploration, and bond quickly over tales of previous expeditions and discussions of ecology and conservation. Passengers are headed to the ends of the earth -- literally -- as they select PolarQuest itineraries that visit the Arctic and North Pole, Antarctica, the Norwegian coast, Greenland and parts of Northern Europe as well as the Galapagos Islands. But the line is best known for its Svalbard itineraries. This Arctic region is PolarQuest's specialty, with nearly 80 percent of its business focused on it.
PolarQuest's specialty is in small-ship expedition cruising. It charters and operates three ships: Sea Endurance, M/S Stockholm and M/S Sjoveien. It also sells voyages on four additional ships (Akademik Sergey Vavilov, M/Y Beluga, Ocean Nova and 50 Years of Victory), but in those instances you'll be part of a PolarQuest group on a ship operated by another cruise line.
Three of the ships on offer from PolarQuest -- M/S Stockholm, M/S Sjoveien and M/Y Beluga -- all accommodate 15 or fewer people. Headed to the Arctic? Sea Endurance can get you there with just 52 other passengers onboard. These small ships allow for a degree of flexibility you won't find on expedition voyages aboard larger vessels. Each passenger receives personalized attention, and when there is an animal sighting, no one has to push and shove to get a view. With such a small group, everyone has access to the same incredible experiences both onboard and during shore excursions. Two guides tend to passengers on the 12-passenger ships, and you'll find five guides on the larger Sea Endurance.
Every single day your guide will take you on several Zodiac expeditions. You may cruise alongside glaciers and icebergs or make a landing ashore. The line's guides are all knowledgeable about the regions they sail, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Plus, PolarQuest guides socialize and dine with cruisers and are accessible for conversations at every turn. Each day is an opportunity to learn something new.
Some ships in the fleet -- such as Akademik Sergey Vavilov and M/S Sjoveien -- have an open bridge policy so you can also visit the captain and learn about the challenges of navigating small watercraft in the Arctic, Antarctica and other far reaches of the globe.
PolarQuest cruise fares generally include onboard accommodations, all meals onboard, complimentary shore excursions led by a naturalist/guide, and an illustrated post-expedition log. Some voyages also include a pre-/post-cruise night in a hotel. Gratuity requirements vary per ship. For example, the line recommends $13 per passenger per day for voyages aboard Sea Endurance (because it has an international crew) while gratuities are included for M/S Stockholm sailings (all Swedish crew). M/S Sjoveien has an international crew but no gratuities are required.
Adventurous, educated nature-lovers who want to immerse themselves in the destinations they visit are drawn to PolarQuest. The clientele is mostly Swedish -- due to the company's Swedish heritage -- but you'll also travel in the company of people from a variety of European countries. On occasion, North Americans, Australians and Asians also join PolarQuest's voyages, but that's not the norm. Expect to meet singles and couples -- mostly in their 60s -- though sometimes a family will also book passage. PolarQuest can help match up single travelers that want to share a cabin (same-sex cabins only).
PolarQuest charters and operates three ships full-time: Sea Endurance, M/S Stockholm and M/S Sjoveien. They also sell group tours on four other ships, but PolarQuest is not always the ship operator on those voyages. The seven-ship fleet includes a motor yacht plus several motor ships and expedition vessels with ice-strengthened hulls.
The 53-passenger, 1,268-ton Sea Endurance originally sailed as M/S Quest and served as a ferry on Greenland's west coast; it was completely refurbished in 2004/2005. The ship's 26 cabins are all ocean-view and feature private bathrooms. Most cabins have one double bed or two twins on the lower berth, but there are some triple-occupancy cabins that include an upper berth as well. The ship sails various itineraries around Svalbard in the Arctic as well as Northeast Greenland.
Sailing the Arctic, Norway and Northern Europe, the 361-ton M/S Stockholm was built in 1953 for the Swedish National Maritime Administration; in 1999, it was refitted as a polar-class ship. With just 12 passengers in twin cabins with bunk beds, private bathrooms and portholes, M/S Stockholm offers a yacht-like experience in the Arctic. Food onboard the ship is particularly good, and unlike other PolarQuest ships, fares for M/S Stockholm include all beverages.
Like M/S Stockholm, the 331-ton M/S Sjoveien, built in 1964, is also a 12-passenger vessel. The ship was originally built in Bergen for the Norwegian Government. In 1995, the ship began a long stretch of private ownership and was most recently a hotel ship. However, M/S Sjoveien has undergone a major refurbishment and will enter service for PolarQuest in early summer 2017. The redesigned ship holds 12 passengers in eight outside cabins that all have private bathrooms. Twin cabins on lower decks have portholes while larger twin cabins on the main deck have windows. There is one large superior cabin with a double bed and windows. Located on the upper deck is another large superior cabin with windows.
The newest ship PolarQuest uses, the 15-passenger M/Y Beluga, is a motor yacht that was built in 2006 and sails the Galapagos Islands. It features eight air-conditioned cabins, some with portholes and others with panoramic windows.
In 1993, the 128-passenger 50 Years of Victory was the first Arktika-class icebreaker built with a spoon-shaped bow. PolarQuest likes to say it's the "largest, most sophisticated and powerful icebreaker every constructed." The ship's stainless-steel, ice-belt hull can break through ice that's up to 10 feet thick. If you've ever wanted to sail aboard a ship powered by two nuclear reactors, this is your chance. Unique for an icebreaker, this ship offers an indoor pool and two saunas. There are five cabin categories, including some spacious suites that offer a choice of bathtub or shower. Each standard twin cabin has a lower berth plus a sofa bed. 50 Years of Victory offers a two-week trip to the North Pole.
Dating back to 1992, Ocean Nova focuses solely on Antarctic voyages. The ship accommodates 67 passengers in twin, triple and quad cabins -- all with outside views and private bathrooms. Triple, quad and a few double cabins feature both upper and lower berths while the rest of the staterooms feature standard beds. Ocean Nova originally sailed around Greenland under the name Sarpik Ittuk, and from 2006 to 2011, it was part of the Quark Expeditions fleet. PolarQuest chartered the ship in late 2011.
The only ship PolarQuest uses that doesn't offer private bathrooms in its cabins is the 1989-era, 92-passenger Akademik Sergey Vavilov. This sleek ship with an ice-strengthened hull sails to the subantarctic island of South Georgia. Originally built in Finland as a polar research vessel, the ship now offers 45 cabins, many with windows. Superior and triple cabins have portholes. While superior cabins have their own facilities, triple cabins offer bunk beds, an ensuite sink and a shared bathroom (one bathroom per two cabins) in the hall. Suites with separate sleeping areas and sofa beds are also available.