Recapping Antarctica aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM

Hurtigruten's FRAM was purpose-built to sail the polar regions of the world, and she excels in Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Hurtigruten’s FRAM was purpose-built to sail the polar regions of the world, and she excels in Antarctica. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I’ve purposely waited nearly three weeks before writing my recap of my voyage to Antarctica aboard Hurtigruten’s purpose-built polar expedition ship, FRAM. As I write this, I couldn’t be further removed from the entire experience – I’m sailing aboard a ship that holds well over 3,500 guests and is, at this moment, cruising through the sweltering waters of the Caribbean.

So why wait so long? Simply put: my voyage aboard the FRAM was overwhelming in so many ways. I needed to step back, look at the entire voyage, and figure out how to possibly encapsulate that entire experience.

Rough Seas

Antarctica is a fabulous destination, and Hurtigruten does a good job there. But there are some policies you should be aware of before you go. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Antarctica is a fabulous destination, and Hurtigruten does a good job there. But there are some policies you should be aware of before you go. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I didn’t file day-by-day reports of our last three days of the voyage, for the simple reason that there wasn’t much to say about them. We sailed the Drake Passage early due to a medical situation onboard, and shipboard life generally followed a sedate pattern.

Upon arrival in Ushuaia, we were offered a small selection of complimentary tours as compensation for our missed day in Antarctica. The tours weren’t terribly special (Ushuaia’s pretty small, after all), but to their credit, Hurtigruten did pull something together at the last minute and offer their guests these experiences on short notice.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: service levels are disappointingly uneven aboard the FRAM. Some crew members go the extra mile for you, while others are barely going through the motions. You really never know whether you’re going to have great service or dismissive service. On a product that costs as much as this, Hurtigruten can do better. In fact, the line does do better: service on my cruise aboard their Midnatsol through Norway a few winters ago was exemplary.

Some policies also seem designed to really rattle experienced cruisers, like the push to charge for what is essentially tap water in the main dining room, and the practice of billing onboard accounts in Norwegian Kroner. Even the strange internet access policies seemed to aggravate guests. Who ever heard of a ship turning their internet off from midnight until two in the afternoon every day?

FRAM Saves The Day

Despite some service issues, Hurtigruten's FRAM is still one of the best ships in the region thanks to the design of the ship itself, and her fabulous onboard Expedition Team. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Despite some service issues, Hurtigruten’s FRAM is still one of the best ships in the region thanks to the design of the ship itself, and her fabulous onboard Expedition Team. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Now that that’s out of the way, let me tell you why I still recommend Hurtigruten in Antarctica. Simply put, the quality of the FRAM herself catapults Hurtigruten to the head of the pack. This is a ship that, as constructed in 2007 at Italy’s Fincantieri shipyards, was designed to handle the worst weather the Polar Regions could throw at her. And she does, with a blunt bow and squat, tank-like appearance that gives her incredible stability in inclement weather.

She’s also a remarkably beautiful ship, with some of the nicest interior design of any expedition ship in Antarctica. Paying tribute to Norwegian polar explorers like Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen, the ship is chocked full of artifacts and historic photographs to the extent that she’s almost a living, breathing tribute to the glory days of Norwegian polar exploration.

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Our Live Voyage Report from aboard Hurtigruten’s FRAM in Antarctica has sadly come to a close, but there are always future journeys ahead. Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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