Hanseatic distinguishes itself by its Zodiac offerings, which are included in the cruise cost. In addition to scheduled excursions, the rafts are sometimes lowered for afternoon cruises. On one such occasion in Newfoundland, we cruised along dramatic rock cliffs before approaching a lobster boat for what we assumed was a quick look-see. Surprise! The ship's hotel manager and maitre d' were aboard to hand out glasses of Champagne. (Sadly, we didn't get to eat any fresh lobster that day.) It was a five-star experience, indeed.
Not only does the crew commandeer lobster boats to amuse its passengers, it often sets up special events on shore. Local entertainers might be on hand to greet passengers as they step on the pier, or the ship's own musicians might give a concert in an unusual venue. In Newfoundland, arrangements were made to have one of the province's oldest wooden churches opened for a midday performance of classical music. In small ports, the ship makes arrangements with local attractions, such as museums or aquariums, to admit passengers at no charge.
Onboard, daytime activities emphasize learning, featuring lectures by scientists, historians or other experts on the destination. Lectures are given in Darwin Hall, an 85-seat auditorium, or the Explorer Lounge, a multipurpose lounge with a bar and a dance floor. Other options include sailaway parties, tours of the engine room and visits to the bridge. Unlike many vessels where the bridge is strictly off limits, the captain has an open-door policy, except when navigation gets tricky.
Evening entertainment is low-key -- no big theatrical productions here and no casino. A classical pianist plays during cocktail hour in the Observation Lounge. Musical groups give concerts, and a band plays dance music after dinner in the Explorer Lounge. Passengers retire early. By midnight, there usually aren't enough folks milling about to fill even a single Zodiac.
Organized shore excursions are a mix of walking, bus and boat tours; guided hikes; kayaking and catamaran excursions, all for additional charge. Cruise literature discloses which tours are offered in English. Shore excursions range in price from about 25 to 140 euros, and those offered in English are generally a good value. In wilderness areas, they cover territory that would be difficult to access on your own.
Editor's note: On more than one occasion, a tour sold as English-speaking morphed into German if the guide spoke German and the majority of participants were German speakers. In these cases, the English speakers were pulled aside and given a summary of the guide's presentation.
A collection of stunning black-and-white photographs of animals and landscapes hangs in the public spaces, as well as the cabins. These images of penguins, polar bears, icebergs and isolated coves -- taken in the destinations the ship visits -- draw oohs and ahhs and fuel the sense of adventure onboard.
The Observation Lounge, perched above the bridge, has wraparound views, a library with a small selection of books in English and two computer stations with Internet access when within satellite range (0.19 cents a minute). The room also has wireless access at the same rate for personal laptops, as does the Explorer Lounge. An additional computer station is located in a cubicle off the reception area.
Editor's note: While many cruise ships serving the U.S. market now forbid smoking indoors, Hanseatic allows it on deck and in designated areas of two lounges. It is not allowed in dining areas. One wonders how strictly the restriction against smoking in cabins is enforced, given the mild tone of signage in staterooms: "We'd like to ask you not to smoke in the cabin."
A small boutique sells clothing, jewelry and perfume.
While there is no spa, massages can be arranged by appointment, and a sauna has posted hours for men, women and mixed groups. There is a tanning bed and fitness room equipped with a treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical, step and rowing equipment, free weights and yoga mats. Gymnastics classes occasionally are offered in the Explorer Lounge; there's no outdoor walking/jogging track. A separate beauty salon offers hair and nail care.
The heated pool isn't large enough for laps, but there's room for a dip, followed by sunning in a deck chair. A whirlpool is enclosed in a glass bubble nearby.
Bicycles can be borrowed for explorations on shore. Snorkeling gear, walking sticks and fishing tackle are provided where appropriate.
While children are allowed onboard, there are no facilities specifically for children. The ship does carry children's life jackets, however. As an expedition vessel, the focus is on academics on the adult level, and many destinations are not appropriate for children. For example, a 21-day expedition in the Arctic might not work with a 4-year-old. If the booking team sees a child booked on a cruise, it will check with the client to ensure that the child is able to sit in a Zodiac on his own and hold tight to the Zodiac ropes.