Silversea's Prince Albert II (Part 2)

| July 6, 2009

This small expedition vessel offers all the luxury and charm of Silversea, but in more exotic -- and challenging -- settings.

Getting Yourself Ready for Prince Albert II Prince Albert II has a Lloyd's Register 1A ice-class hull, so it can cruise through a field of ice floes and even cut through an ice pack. Most off-ship tours are conducted in open-air outboard motorboats called skiffs or Zodiacs, where passengers sit on the rubber pontoon sides that keep these small craft afloat.

Prince Albert II will dock in port when possible, but otherwise guests will go ashore in the Zodiac skiffs, not the traditional tenders. You will need a special life jacket just for the ride to shore.

In most cases this is not as inconvenient as it sounds. The ship is small enough to anchor close to most docks. If the sun is out, these open-air rides are actually very refreshing. Getting in and out of the skiff can be a little precarious, however, so learning the "seaman's grip" is part of the welcome-aboard briefing.

click on pictures below for larger images:

Prince Albert Anchored at Fair Isle, Shetland Islands   Fully Dressed: Parka, Overpants, Rubber Boots   Prince Albert II in Svalbard ice

The challenge is not these short skiff rides; it is arctic Zodiac tours conducted solely in the skiffs without ever landing. This means you will sit on the rubber pontoon with no protection from the weather except for the clothes you have on. The pre-cruise literature warns guests to bring the proper clothing and to wear it whenever it might be needed. Do not take this warning lightly.

At times, these shore expeditions can really test your endurance. But with the right precautions they become the experience of a lifetime.

For non-landing Zodiac excursions, the team will load up to 16 passengers into each of several skiffs carried on the ship. The skiffs will proceed along routes that skirt the landscape, along cliffs and ice packs, inside of caves and even through tunnels carved out by the sea.

A tour that takes you ashore will be designated as a "dry" or a "wet" landing; the latter requires you to step into the water before you can step ashore. For wet landings, you need rubber boots; but you will even want those rubber boots for the non-landing skiff excursions, because your feet can get wet just from the water splashing into the skiff. This is arctic water at freezing temperatures -- not a condition to be taken lightly, especially if you might be out for hours at a stretch.

Always wear completely waterproof clothing, head to toe, on expeditions in polar climates. This includes waterproof pants that fit over your regular pants, waterproof boots, and waterproof gloves. Double-check that your gloves are 100 percent waterproof. Some appear to be when they are not.

Silversea provides guests with a waterproof parka jacket of excellent quality. They ask for your size when you book the cruise, and it is waiting in your stateroom when you arrive. You will also find special skiff life preservers and a waterproof backpack. We recommend that you bring a stocking cap and scarf for added warmth inside your parka. Polarizing sunglasses or even goggles that fit snugly against your face will help you see and protect your eyes.

At some point in the cruise they will call you to be fitted with waterproof rubber boots. You only need to buy and bring such boots if you wear an unusual size. Wear all these waterproof clothes during every non-landing skiff excursion in cold weather, unless it is a sunny day and you are only going a short distance. Do not attempt to remain on the skiff for a long period without them. The weather can change very quickly in the polar regions.

Having issued that warning, I hope this won't discourage you from booking a Prince Albert II cruise, or any expedition cruise using skiffs. With these clothes you will be amply protected -- we only want to stress how important it is to be prepared.

Continue Article >> Prince Albert II Details (Part 3)

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