By Doug O’Neill
I don’t think any of my friends were surprised when I returned home from my first Arctic voyage last June and proceeded to monopolize the conversation at every social gathering and pub outing for weeks afterward. My “Spitsbergen Highlights: Expedition in Brief” voyage supplied me with an endless list of memories and “best polar moments” which I shared whenever I found a willing audience, which was easy—because everyone within listening range (including patrons at nearby tables in various restaurants) perked up at the mention of the Arctic.
Ocean Adventurer has long been a favourite of guests and expedition crew alike. Credit Abbey Weisbrot
I described in great detail for my friends what it was like cruising through the pack ice along the west coast of Spitsbergen, in the Norwegian Arctic, on a ship called Ocean Adventurer. How one day I hiked across the tundra and stopped in my tracks as a herd of six reindeer trotted past me. How six fellow passengers and I sat quietly in a Zodiac, the motor turned off, as we listened to the crashing thunder of glaciers calving in the distance. I recreated the unforgettable moment when I stood below a clifftop at Alkehornet looking up at a towering cliff teeming with thousands Brünnich’s guillemots. I left listeners spellbound when I listed the wildlife we saw: walruses, Arctic foxes, whales (blue whales and orcas) and reindeer.
Throughout the telling (and retelling) of my Spitsbergen stories, it became increasingly evident that Ocean Adventurer, my floating home away from home during my Arctic expedition, figured front and centre in so many of my stories.
For instance: I recalled early mornings and late nights (the sunlight never seemed to wane) standing on the deck of Ocean Adventurer, eyes scanning the water for any sign of whales. I admittedly bragged a little when I told how I stood next to the captain on the bridge as we eyed a polar bear, with blood-stained paws, ambling along the ice edge. I spoke of the camaraderie of passengers sitting in the lounge before dinner, excitedly swapping stories and anecdotes from our respective adventures of the day. I practically waxed poetic about the library on Ocean Adventurer where my paddling mates and I gathered late one day to swap photos of walruses and seals.
Passengers on Ocean Adventurer are invited up to the bridge to scan the horizon for wildlife. Photo credit: Rogelio Espinosa
I surprised my listeners when I told them about late afternoon siestas (in parkas) on the cushioned sofas on the deck, idly watching the passing parade of ice formations that never seemed to stop. I spoke of strangers-becoming-friends after sharing numerous meals together in the dining room.
Turns out that Ocean Adventurer was as important to my first Arctic expedition as the polar bears, icebergs and glaciers.
What makes a ship like Ocean Adventurer so special that even the expedition team insist it’s their favourite polar ship?
Size matters: Intimate feel of a boutique hotel
The library is an intimate gathering spot for guests to connect at the end of the afternoon to share photos and stories of the day's adventures. Credit: Rogelio Espinosa
There’s ample space to meet and socialize on Ocean Adventurer, which is surprising because it’s only 101 meters (331 feet) long with a breadth of 16 metres (52 feet). And that’s part of the ship’s appeal. With staff and crew of 87 and guest capacity of 128, Ocean Adventurer felt to me like a smallish boutique hotel with lots of character where everybody knows everybody. Because of its size, you’re never far from anything – not the lounge, not the dining room, and definitely not far from the viewing deck whenever the captain alerted guests about wildlife sightings.
The size and layout of the vessel also made it increasingly easy when disembarking onto the Zodiacs for shore excursions. After suiting up in my room and slipping into muck boots and life jacket, it was barely a 2-minute walk down to the Zodiac embarkation point. I found I could get from my room to any point on the ship—dining room, lounge, observation deck, gift-shop—within a couple of minutes..
Friendliest vibe: A floating community
The main lounge of Ocean Adventurer becomes one large living room that's ideal for connecting with fellow guests at any time of the day or night. Photo credit: Rogelio Espinosa
Getting to know fellow guests was easy, and striking up conversations came naturally on Ocean Adventurer. The vessel is clearly designed for socializing and nurturing friendships. The lounge (which doubles as the theater) is roomy enough to accommodate everyone on board. I had the option of hanging out with just a few friends (there are foursomes of comfortable swivel chairs anchored to the floor) or in in larger groups (sizeable banquettes for that). Otherwise, I could grab a stool at the bar, or choose one of the smaller settings of chairs along the side of the lounge where people played board games, read, enjoyed a post-excursion drink, or listened to the daily presentations.
The ship’s dining-room actually felt like a dining-room—not a large restaurant. Sometimes I sat with my friends, other times I simply joined a table of strangers who would become friends. And because of the number of passengers on Ocean Adventurer, every guest will invariably have breakfast, lunch or dinner with an expedition team member (or several) at some point during the expedition.
The layout of the dining room on Ocean Adventurer makes it easy to socialize with fellow passengers, and guests invariably dine with members of the expedition team. Photo credit: Rogelio Espinosa
One of my favourite spaces aboard Ocean Adventurer was The Clipper Club, a cozy, rectangular bar/dining room adjoining the main dining room. I gravitated to The Clipper Club whenever my traveling companions and I wanted a more intimate meal together. And the aft deck (near the back of the restaurant) had various small tables and chairs, as well as cushioned sofas and lounge chairs which I liked just for hanging outside.
The Clipper Club is ideal for intimate dinners or simply having drinks with new-found friends aboard Ocean Adventurer. Photo credit: Rogelio Espinosa
Ocean Adventurer, built in 1975, underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation in 2017. While the refurbishment resulted in a refreshed, contemporary new look throughout the ship, the classic feel wasn’t lost—and that resonates with a lot of guests, including me. The nautical touches throughout the ship reminded me that I was indeed on an authentic expedition ship: the brass fittings, the polished wood bannisters, the teak on portions of the deck, the spiral staircase outside the reception area, the wood panelling, the numerous portholes, the framed photographs of early polar explorers like Roald Amundsen and Frederik Cook, and the wildlife illustrations that lined the corridors.
If you’re eager for your own Ocean Adventurer experience, consider one of these expeditions:
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