Fram, the smallest and newest ship in the fleet of Norwegian coastal line Hurtigruten, was designed for expedition cruises to some of the most remote places on the planet. Launched in 2007, the ship spends the Northern Hemisphere's warmer months in Arctic waters, exploring Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard; November through February is spent in Antarctica, during the austral summer. In between, the ship takes passengers on lengthy transatlantic crossings between the poles.
Fitting of a polar expedition ship, Fram (pronounced frahm) is named after the wooden sailing ship built in 1892 for Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen's North Pole expedition. The original Fram (Norwegian for "forward") completed three trips: an unsuccessful attempt to reach the North Pole under Nansen; an exploratory mission to the Canadian Arctic with Otto Sverdrup; and a South Pole expedition led by Roald Amundsen, who reached the pole on December 14, 1911.
From the moment you step onboard this compact ship, you feel as though you've arrived in a polar region. The artwork, created by Arctic-region artists, reflects both the Arctic and Antarctic with photos of those early expeditions, paintings of snow-capped peaks and (from the South Pole) pictures of penguins. The staircase landings sport glass sculptures resembling icebergs. Highlights are the model of the Fram sailing ship and the exhibit of Fram artifacts displayed in the arcade hallway leading to and from the dining room. Historic objects are on loan from the Fram Museum in Oslo, Norway.
While Fram was constructed to sail on polar expeditions, its owners did not skimp on style. The blond woods associated with Scandinavia are everywhere: in cabin and public room furniture, decor accents and even stairway railings. Fabric colors are rich: royal blue and brick red with calmer colors for the carpeting. Public areas, including restrooms, are always spotless.
The onboard atmosphere is decidedly social. The ship has just two main gathering spots for conversation or relaxing, but they tend to be busy with passengers exchanging onshore experiences and gazing at the stunning land- and seascapes. The expedition crewmembers -- a group of scientific experts plus the staffers who handle the logistics of going ashore -- are often available for a chat, and they conclude every enrichment presentation with a question-and-answer session.
Staffers are friendly and efficient, and most speak at least two languages. They're also flexible by necessity; on expedition cruises, every day's schedule is at the mercy of weather and sailing conditions. When our Greenland itinerary was snarled by fog and ice, the expedition team rejiggered our daily programs -- sometimes multiple times a day -- and kept us informed via timely P.A. announcements in two or three languages.
While most passengers were satisfied with their cruise overall, the ship's biggest flaw is inconsistency. Among the daily nature and history lectures were some of the most engaging talks we've ever heard on an expedition cruise, but also a few of the worst (unfocused, repetitive or simply not useful). While set-seating dinners were typically delicious, the buffet offerings drew some complaints for the lack of variety. Many shore excursions thrilled passengers, but a few were overpriced or underwhelming. And the lack of reliable Internet access was a persistent source of frustration for those hoping to keep in touch with family members, house-sitters or coworkers at home. In the end, though, these were minor quibbles in comparison to the adventures we were having ashore.