Roald Amundsen is a strikingly beautiful ship. Carrying 530 passengers, 500 in Antarctica, it's big for an expedition vessel, with many of the features you'd expect on a luxury cruise ship, from an infinity pool to wellness centre and fine dining restaurant. The interiors were designed by Tilburg in Sweden and the ship itself by Espen Øino, one of the world's foremost yacht designers, the hull compact and sleek, with a pointed bow and elegantly curved stern.
The decor embodies the Scandinavian concept of hygge -- comfort and cosiness -- with all sorts of attractive touches, from granite and pale wood finishes to potted birch trees (artificial, of course) and soft woollen blankets in the cabins. Carpets carry patterns of runes, the ancient Viking alphabet, while the otherwise stark atrium is dominated by a 57-foot LED screen, the tallest at sea, showing dazzling, high definition images of scenes from nature. The in parts avant-garde art collection was hand-picked by the Queen Sonja Print Award, the art foundation set up by the Queen of Norway. Overall, the vibe is informal and adventurous, but super-stylish.
Roald Amundsen has the maximum capacity a ship is allowed to operate in Antarctica so everything on board is geared to efficient movement of passengers. Landings are carefully coordinated in waves, in rotating groups. This works effectively -- but you have to accept that you might not be going ashore until evening on some days. Meals are taken in two sittings in the main restaurant, Aune, and the fine dining restaurant, Lindstrøm, which is reserved for suite passengers, but available to the rest for a fee, is subject to availability. Lifeboat drill and distribution of rubber boots (in polar regions) is done in shifts, while lectures are coordinated and duplicated so that passengers from either sitting can attend.
Essentially, anything that requires action from all passengers, like collecting wearable Velcro patches that identify your boat group, or vacuuming your clothes for biosecurity, is divided up by deck. As such, there's never an occasion where all passengers are together, so you miss out on the sense of community common to smaller expedition vessels. On the other hand, you'll find there's very little waiting in line.
It's also worth noting the ship's environmental credentials are impressive. Power from two enormous banks of batteries saves around 20 percent on fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, although, contrary to media reports, the captain doesn't switch off the engines and run the ship on battery power alone. There's only enough capacity for about 45 minutes' sailing if that were to happen. The use of the batteries means the ship is exceptionally quiet -- and the dynamic positioning system means that neither passengers nor marine life are disturbed by the clanking of an anchor chain.
A sharp, wave-piercing bow and a deep draft mean Roald Amundsen is perfectly suited to rough seas, while a PC6 ice class means it's able to push through the sea ice that can clog landing sites in polar regions. It's not, however, an icebreaker.
All sorts of other touches complete the green picture, from laundry bags made from upcycled hotel sheets to the crew uniforms in the Lindstrøm restaurant, made from recycled plastic cleared from the sea by Spanish fishermen. There's no single use plastic at all -- so bring your own shower cap.
Roald Amundsen's passengers come from a variety of countries, including the UK, USA and Canada, Norway, Germany and France. Most are mature, certainly on the long polar cruises, but active and inquisitive. Most are couples; there aren't any single cabins, although some cruises have promotions that reduce or eliminate single supplements. Many are repeaters, or people who have graduated from Hutrigruten's Norwegian coastal voyages to expeditions. The vibe on board is friendly and sociable; it's easy to get chatting to fellow passengers on tenders and hikes, at the bar, or in the hot tub. On the other hand, because 500 is a lot of passengers, you're still spotting people on the last day for the first time.
Families are welcome and there is a Young Explorer's educational programme for kids but you're unlikely to see children on the long, polar cruises in school term time.
There's no formal dress code; most people go to dinner in jeans and sometimes, walking boots, although passengers in Lindstrøm, the fine dining restaurant, make a bit more effort. For polar cruises, a packing list is provided, including thermals, fleeces, hats and gloves. A Helly Hansen wind and waterproof jacket to keep is provided for each guest, which is top quality, but this is just a shell, so you need to bring a fleece or liner to wear underneath. Rubber boots are loaned to all guests on polar expeditions and are extremely useful as many landings are in the water -- and in Antarctica, their use is mandatory. Dry suits are provided for kayaking.
The large sauna on board is clothing-optional and the towels provided are tiny; take a blue pool towel instead if you're inclined to modesty.
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Trip of a lifetime in more ways than one!
Not your typical cruise - so much better!
Trip of a Lifetime!