An Albatros Expeditions ship berthed in Norway's Svalbard archipelago
Perhaps somewhat controversially for the CEO of an expedition travel operator, Hans Lagerweij believes it is impossible to plan the perfect expedition cruise itinerary.
“The ideal itinerary does not exist – expedition cruising is all about exploring remote natural areas and having the freedom to take advantage of local sea and weather conditions and wildlife opportunities whenever they appear,” he explains. “For example, if we are scheduled to visit a certain site but we learn that there’s a ‘feeding frenzy’ involving more than 50 whales just 20 miles further ahead, we want to be able to drop our planned itinerary so our guests can observe this unique moment.
“Some new entrants to the expedition segment try to build itineraries in the same way as they would for traditional ocean cruises, but this is a worrying approach because it sets the wrong expectations for guests. At Albatros Expeditions, we focus on building the perfect expedition team that takes every opportunity Mother Nature offers to optimise the guest experience.”
Albatros Expeditions operates two purpose-built expedition ships – the 189-guest Ocean Victory and Ocean Albatros, which joined the fleet in November 2021 and May 2023, respectively. Both vessels are built to Ice Class 1A and Polar Code 6 standards and feature Ulstein Design & Solutions’ X-Bow hull and various eco-friendly technologies to minimise their carbon footprint and enable them to operate in environmentally sensitive areas. In winter, they sail a mixture of shorter and longer voyages to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands. In the summer, they explore the Arctic, calling at destinations such as Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard archipelago.
“Ushuaia in Argentina and Longyearbyen in Svalbard are our main hubs in Antarctica and the Arctic, respectively, and we focus on Kangerlussuaq and Ilulissat in Greenland,” says Lagerweij. “As Greenland expert, we focus our innovation on this unique part of the Arctic and aim to offer the largest choice of itineraries there. However, we’re always looking for new opportunities to develop voyages in the months between our core seasons, which also help us reposition our ships.”
In 2024, for example, Albatros Expeditions will offer a new ‘Viking Voyage’ from Copenhagen in Denmark to Scotland.
“I’m very excited about this voyage, which will enable guests to follow in the footsteps of the Viking’s from our brand’s home through the North Sea to Scotland,” says Lagerweij. “There is so much history to encounter on the route and guests will be able to explore some of the unique natural highlights in places like Denmark’s northernmost town Skagen and both the Shetland and Orkney Islands. Our Scotland voyages are very popular, and we have high expectations for this itinerary.”
Albatros Expeditions considers several key factors when evaluating which ports and destinations to incorporate into its itineraries.
“Expedition cruising is all about moving away from crowds and exploring remote areas, so our main focus is to look for quiet ports,” says Lagerweij. “Well-equipped port facilities are a secondary need, and a good mix of shore experience options is fundamental.”
The brand aims to give guests every opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the nature, culture and history of these destinations.
“Our guests don’t like to be packed into tour buses and driven around destinations; they want to be out in nature, taking long walks and enjoying authentic and immersive experiences,” says Lagerweij. “Wildlife encounters are at the top of our guests’ preferred activity list, and visits to unique and endangered nature areas are extremely popular too. In Kangerlussuaq, for example, we offer guests the chance to walk the famous Greenlandic ice cap, and in Ilulissat we take them to the magnificent Unesco World Heritage Icefjord.”
Ilulissat is one of Lagerweij favourite destinations. “The views on Icefjord are so impressive that I can sit and enjoy the same scenery for hours – and that’s quite rare for someone who generally finds it difficult to stay still for more than a few minutes,” he says. “There’s also nothing more rewarding and impressive than seeing Antarctica for the first time after sailing for two days on the infamous Drake Passage – it’s a very emotional moment.”
Albatros Expeditions owns and controls destination management companies in Greenland, and also collaborates closely with partners such as the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) and Association of Arctic Tour Operators (AECO) to optimise these destination experiences.
“Our guests want to be ‘alone’ at the sites they visit so they feel like real explorers, and we wouldn’t be able to give them this experience if there were three other ships in the area,” says Lagerweij. “IAATO and AECO both work with a scheduler to reserve the sites we want to visit, which not only improves the experience for our guests but also protects the destinations against over-tourism. These partnerships are critical, especially with the current growth in expedition cruise ships making it even more important for us to schedule our calls around those from other brands.”
The brand is actively seeking similar partnerships with organisations in other areas of the world too. “Now that we’re growing our Northern Europe itineraries, Cruise Europe is an interesting association for us to work with,” says Lagerweij. “I visited the conference for the first time this year and was inspired by the passion and ideas of the different ports I met.”
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.