Andy Mossack sails in the wake of famous polar explorers while cruising the Canadian Arctic with Swan Hellenic.
Late afternoon in Newfoundland, and I’m exploring the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park walking directly on the Earth’s mantle. This caramel-coloured rock is from the Earth’s core thrown up billions of years ago, and one of only three places in the World you can see it. I’m having moment, and, so it seems, are members of our expedition team, who are equally in awe. Not surprising as Gros Morne is a breathtaking place. A huge glacial fjord lined with towering cliffs and waterfalls.
This memorable excursion was just one of the many highlights of cruising the Canadian Arctic with Swan Hellenic, an epic 15-night luxury expedition cruise aboard SH Vega around Greenland and the Canadian Arctic ending in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Luxury expedition cruising has brought an exciting new dimension to the cruise industry, retracing the routes of history’s greatest explorers accompanied by an expedition team of polar and wildlife experts. Instead of grazing around tourist laden ports you are out on Zodiac inflatables up close and personal with the natural world.
Greenland’s Disko Island is a perfect example, where legendary explorers Cabot, Franklin, and Frobisher set off on ill-fated voyages to find the famous northwest passage. We perform our own version in Zodiacs around the giant icebergs in Disko Bay. A field of naturally sculpted icebergs. Nature’s unique art gallery. Each one a masterpiece.
Even joining the ship in Greenland was a mini adventure. Swan Hellenic had chartered a private flight across from Iceland and we could see the edge of Greenland’s ice sheet as we began our descent into Kangerlussuaq airfield. The captain announced “Welcome to Greenland everyone. The outside temperature is -4, have a great day!”
Anchored offshore in the Kangerlussuaq fjord, one of the longest in the world at nearly 200 kilometres, we had to board a fleet of Zodiacs to reach her. Kangerlussuaq is dwarfed on either side by immense three-billion-year-old rock walls, forming a natural guard of honour for us as we cruised five hours before emerging onto the Davis Strait. By now it was pitch black, and standing out on the ship’s bow, the only light we could see was Nature’s own. The Northern Lights. What a way to kick off a cruise!
SH Vega is one of a trio of cutting edge polar-class boutique ships designed from the ground up as the new fleet of the relaunched Swan Hellenic heritage brand. A cruise marque that once pioneered expedition cruising in the 50s and 60s, and its new owners aim to echo that spirit by taking guests to some of the remotest places on Earth.
While SH Vega is a ship built to combat extremes of weather, her sumptuous interior is quite the opposite. With just 152 guests pampered by a crew of 120, this was perhaps the nearest I got to experience life aboard a superyacht. It’s an all-inclusive world. All meals, soft drinks and selected alcoholic beverages any time, day or night, 24-hour room service, most expedition excursions (only on polar cruises) and all crew gratuities. Swan Hellenic also includes an excellent polar parka, waterproof backpack and water bottle (all to take home), and specialist waterproof muck boots for excursions.
The Observation Lounge was the ship’s beating heart. Giant panoramic windows and comfy settees provided the perfect place to have a quiet read, chat with my fellow shipmates over a glass or two, and enjoy impressive daily briefings, lectures and stirring tales of exploits from our expedition team.
My D6 balcony suite was spacious Scandi luxury – earthy wooden tones and textures-more a retreat than a cabin. Ample storage, (probably the most I have seen on a cruise), a very comfortable lounge area, well-equipped bathroom with bath and shower, and, past sliding floor-to-ceiling glass doors, a twelve square metre balcony space.
There is such an impressive staff to guest ratio on SH Vega, any comparison to service levels on larger ships is a fruitless exercise. A perfect example was on my first morning. I happened to mention my breakfast avocado obsession to restaurant manager Renato, who promptly had a freshly sliced avocado materialise at my table within minutes. And every morning after that, without me uttering another word.
And while we’re about food, there is flexible seating in Vega’s two restaurants and no formal evenings. You can dine alone or with your new friends, and that includes the officers and expedition team, whose tales of heroic exploits on land and sea make for very engaging dining partners. The Swan Restaurant is the main venue for table dining, while the Club Lounge is an informal buffet affair for early risers and lunches.
But it’s the world outside the ship that’s the headline act when you’re expedition cruising.
As the Captain reminded us on day one, “Expedition cruising is all about planning. You have a Plan A followed by B, C and as much of the alphabet as you can get through.” Never a truer word as they say, as we worked through that alphabet, changing course numerous times to avoid wind-assisted heavy seas and adding extra Zodiac outings when opportunities arose. The ship even did a handbrake turn for two humpback whales, who came alongside and greeted us with perfectly synchronised arcing dives.
In Greenland, the Inuit have had to adapt, their livelihood stunted by colonisation and the collapse of whaling. Tourism is still in its infancy but offers real hope for them. In the small town of Sisimuit, Karen, our guide, took us out to see working huskies. “Many hunters now have snowmobiles instead of dogs “she said “but machines can cut out on you in the back country. Dogs will always get you home.”
Another excursion took us to the World Heritage glacial ice fjord of Llulissat. A wooden walkway stretched across the tundra down to the glacier where natural calving has created a sea of immense icebergs. It was this glacier that created the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. An impressive new Visitor Centre has been constructed to celebrate Greenlandic nature and culture, while on the roof of the building we took in the magnificent icy panorama.
After a week exploring Greenland, it was on to Canada and following a front row seat to a Super Harvest Full Moon, we woke up in Nunavut at Baffin Island in Arctic Canada, the gateway to the northwest passage.
After transiting down the Labrador coast, we entered the Torngat Mountains National Park and enjoy nothing but privileged isolation. Just us, a tranquil fjord, and immense mountains.
We were out on the Zodiacs once again and spotted a huge polar bear lying close to shore. It’ was in that moment when you realise you are witnessing something special. We got as close as we dare, turned the outboards off and watched him lumbering around for an hour.
But just then, even the polar bear was upstaged.
One of the team spotted a whale blow, and we waited silent and speechless as an adult Minke whale appeared next to us. It slowly swam around us curiously checking each Zodiac out, before heading back into the depths.
Twin Attenborough moments in a single afternoon. Incredible.
We got our first real taste of Newfoundland at Red Bay, an historic whaling town of 16th century Basque whalers where at one time over 1,000 men harvested Right and Bowhead whales on an industrial level. Back on board we were all made honorary Newfoundlanders in the ‘ancient’ ceremony of codfish lip-kissing before downing a shot of screech, the locally made rum.
Our final stop before heading to Halifax was Bonne Bay, where we were reunited with trees at long last, all decked out in their autumn colours This pretty coastal town is the gateway to the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park and that goosebump encounter with the Earth’s mantle.
A fitting finale to my cruising the Canadian Arctic with Swan Hellenic and my expedition cruise exploits.
Cruising the Canadian Arctic with Swan Hellenic was a very special experience. Not only to witness such remote beauty and those unforgettable wildlife encounters, but to witness it all in such splendid isolation was an absolute privilege. The expedition team was first class and ensured every guest felt safe and secure. And a special thanks to all the onboard crew who became our extended family. Nothing was too much trouble, and we were all thoroughly spoilt
Images (C) Andy Mossack and Swan Hellenic.
Tell me more about Cruising the Canadian Arctic with Swan Hellenic
Cruising the Canadian Arctic with Swan Hellenic is a 15-night cruise entitled Greenland to Nova Scotia – Exploring the Canadian Arctic, on board SH Vega, departing 25 September 2024, costs from £18,056 pp (two sharing) and includes regional flights to the port of embarkation and/or disembarkation, group return transfers from the airport to the cruise port, one night pre-cruise accommodation, all meals, 24-hour room service, selected drinks 24-hours a day, lecture programmes by experienced expedition team and guests speakers, branded expedition parka and use of rubber boots in Polar Regions, standard Wi-Fi, and selected shore excursions/expeditions.
T: 0044 207 846 0271
Staying overnight at London Gatwick
Holiday Extras is the market leader in UK airport parking, hotels, lounges, and transfers – and last year most of their customers saved at least £100 on their airport parking vs the price they’d have paid on the gate. Booking an Airport Hotel means you can enjoy more holiday with less hassle. Plus with Flextras, if you need to cancel or amend you can without charge.
One night at Sofitel London Gatwick is available from £157.50.