cruises

Museum Monday highlights from Viking.TV

Courtesy Kon-Tiki Museum

We’re setting off for Iceland in a few weeks to join Viking for one of their Welcome Back cruises. So we have been poking around the company’s website.

One impressive resource there for the general public is Viking.TV. It was created in response to the pandemic and this channel is chock full of videos about art, culture, history, food, music, architecture, and destinations around the world.

Our favorite feature is Museum Monday. Stop in and you’ll see that there are now more than 60 videos about museums and collections. including some wonderful behind the scene tours.

You’ll find your own favorites, but here are a few of the videos that captured our attention and our imagination this week. We started with a visit to the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway, home to Thor Heyerdahl’s original Kon-Tiki raft and the papyrus boat Ra II.

We also went down a rabbit hole at London’s British Museum learning about how prepared the museum for lockdown and toured the collection of the Alaskan objects at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich, England.

World’s first hybrid electric-powered cruise ship arrives in North America

When it comes to the environment and sustainability, cruise ships and many cruise ship operators get failing grades when it comes to controlling carbon emissions, recycling and treating water, waste and sewage.

But thanks to new technology and the scrutiny of passengers, government agencies and environmental groups, the tide is beginning to turn in favor of the earth.

Norwegian cruise operator Hurtigruten is on the leading edge of that effort with the world’s first hybrid electric-powered expedition ship, which recently made history as the first ship of its kind to traverse the Northwest Passage.

The 530-passenger MS Roald Amundsen is named for the Norwegian explorer who was the first person to navigate the Northwest Passage by boat and the first person to cross Antarctica and reach the South Pole.

Hurtigruten’s sustainability policies include a ban on single-use plastics and the goal of being totally emission-free within 20 years. The Roald Amundsen moves the company towards that goal by featuring a hybrid operating system that uses large banks of batteries to supplement the power of the main engines, which run on low sulfur marine gas oil.

“Excess, unneeded energy from the engines is stored in the batteries and when the engine needs extra energy, we draw it back from the batteries and feed it into the engines,” Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam told NBC.

That reduces fuel usage, allows the engines to operate at their optimum levels and lowers CO2 emissions by 20 percent.  

The ship also has the option to run on battery power alone for limited periods, during which time it uses no fuel and creates zero emissions.           

Charging the batteries from the ship’s excess energy is essential, said Skjeldam, because there are currently no power charging stations for ships to plug into in port.

The company’s next hybrid ships will be different, he says.

Those ships will have plug-in capability and be able to recharge at power stations Skjeldam expects to be set up along the Norwegian coast and elsewhere.

The world’s first hybrid-powered cruise ship set sail from Norway in July and is now in Vancouver, B.C. preparing for a season of expedition cruises in Antarctica. Hurtigruten will debut a second hybrid-powered ship, the MS Fridtjof Nansen, in 2020. A third, yet unnamed hybrid-powered ship will be delivered in 2021.

Hurtigruten’s next generation of hybrid ships, along with a half-dozen of its retrofitted existing ships, will run on a mixture of battery power, liquified natural gas (LNG) and biogas made from organic waste, such as dead fish.

“Bio-gas is like a Kinder Egg of fuel; it is like those chocolate eggs with treats inside,” said Skjeldam. “Passengers on our ships will eat fish. The waste from that fish and from the fish farming industry will go into a production plant that generates gas for our ships and creates fertilizer for the agriculture industry.”

Skjeldam says that, for now, Hurtigruten’s hybrid ships and its commitment to far-reaching sustainability practices is an expensive proposition.

“We expect the technology to be cheaper in the future. But we know passengers don’t want to visit beautiful, pristine places on an operator that is not taking the nature they sail to seriously. Some cruise lines say they’re green, but passengers can tell the difference.”

Other cruise lines do their part – or not

The world’s largest cruise company, U.S.-based cruise ship operator Carnival Corp., was in court this week to address charges that it continues to violate environmental laws by discharging plastics, food, or “gray water” into protected areas.

“Compliance, environmental protection, safety — it’s the first thing,” Arnold Donald told the court. “Without it, we don’t have a business.”

On the positive side, though, Norwegian Cruise Lines Partners recently announced that it is on target to reach its goal of replacing all single-use plastic bottles across its fleet by Jan. 1, 2020.

Lindblad Expeditions announced its intention to become a carbon-neutral company starting this year by making investments to offset 100 percent of its emissions.

And the global cruise industry is working as a group to meet a goal the Cruise Lines International Association announced in 2018 of reducing the rate of carbon emissions across the industry fleet by 40 percent by 2030.

(My story about the world’s first hybrid electric-powered cruise ship first appeared on NBC.com)

Cruising with astronauts in Italy

I’m incredibly fortunate – and very starstruck – to be sailing this week on Viking’s fifth and newest ocean ship, the Viking Orion, during its maiden voyage with her ceremonial godmother, American chemist, emergency room physician and retired NASA astronaut Dr. Anna Fisher, who brought along dozens of special guests, scientists, astronomers and more than a dozen of her fellow former and current astronauts.

The 930-guest, 47,800-ton Viking Orion is named after the Orion constellation and in honor of Dr. Fisher’s work on NASA’s Orion exploration vehicle project.

I’m prowling the decks with a print-out of the photos of the astronauts and other space experts hoping to meet them all and ask them questions about everything from travel tips learned from space travel to memories of their first flights. (Getting them to sign my press release would be awkward, right?)

Their answers will appear here and in various assigned stories I’ll share links to later, but in the meantime, here are some photos and tidbits from the spectacular naming ceremony that took place in Livorno, Italy that included musical performances, tributes to Nordic mythology, a flying ‘spaceman’ who traveled over the crowd and around the ship by jetpack and fireworks.

 

 

In Livorno, the ship was docked beside the city’s historic Medici-built Fortezza Vecchia (Old Fortress) and a special interactive exhibit was set up inside to tell the stories of exploration technology throughout history – from the Vikings’ solar compass to Galileo’s gravitational and projectile motion experiments.

Among the special features on this ship is a  26-seat planetarium-like theater called the Explorers’ Dome – showing special panoramic films about exploration, such as “Journey to Space” and “Life Under the Arctic Sky” in a fully immersive environment.

Viking Orion continues her maiden season sailing itineraries in the Western and Eastern Mediterranean this summer before heading east to sail Viking’s newest itineraries in Asia, Australia and Alaska.

Stay tuned for more.

North to Alaska? The rush is on.

ALASKA LAKE HOOD SEAPLANE BASE

It’s not Klondike-era gold nuggets they’re after, but the gold that comes from mining tourism.

Airlines, cruise companies and chains such as Cabela’s and the Hard Rock Cafe are heading north to Alaska hoping to cash in on a rising tide of visitors to the Land of the Midnight Sun.

After three consecutive years of growth, Alaska’s visitor count reached an all-time high of nearly 2 million guests between May 1, 2013, and April 30, 2014, according to the Alaska Division of Economic Development.

Those 1,961,700 visitors beat the 2007-20008 record by 5,000 people.

“For many national brands such as Hard Rock, Alaska felt too far away to be relevant to expanding a national presence and many thought it would be too difficult to run a successful branch in the state,” said Calum MacPherson, area vice president of operations at Hard Rock International, “but we’ve seen a shift in recent years.”

Hard Rock now sees Anchorage as a “thriving, up-and-coming city that is uniquely positioned with a growing and flourishing cruise business” he said. He also noted that the local population was listed by the Census Bureau as having the nation’s second-highest median income in 2011.

After a soft opening early this summer, the Hard Rock Cafe Anchorage will have a grand opening Sept. 19 at its downtown Anchorage location at Fourth Avenue and E Street, which is where the long-distance Iditarod sled dog race begins each year.

Hard Rock Cafe Anchorage_courtesy Hard Rock International

Earlier this year, Cabela’s opened a 100,000-square-foot store in Anchorage selling hunting, fishing and outdoor gear with wildlife displays, an aquarium, indoor archery range, a mountain replica, deli, fudge shop and other tourist-friendly attractions on-site. Bass Pro Shops, with a wetlands nature center, stuffed animals, an aquarium and other tourist-friendly features, opened an outpost in July.

The new tourism record for Alaska was boosted by increases in the number of cruise visitors, greater air service, growth in winter travel and an aggressive state-led tourism marketing campaign, said Joe Jacobson, director of the state’s Division of Economic Development.

Close to a million visitors toured Alaska by cruise ship last year, lured by great scenery, not to mention a reduction in the state’s passenger head tax from $46 to $34.50.

“After that, many ships returned to Alaska and new ships entered the market,” Jacobson said. Holland America added departures that brought 6 percent more guests in 2013 over 2012, Celebrity Cruises sent one of its new Solstice Class ships to Alaska for the first time and new ships entered the market, he said.

Increased air service helped Alaska boost tourism numbers as well. Virgin America and Icelandair entered the market with service to Anchorage, and several other carriers (JetBlue, United and Delta,) increased the number of their Alaskan flights.

One number that isn’t rising is the age of the average visitor.

The most recent Visitor Statistics Program report that looked at demographics (2011-2012) found that the average age decreased slightly, from 51.6 to 50.7, between 2006 and 2011.

“The glaciers took my breath away,” said Renee Brotman, a leadership coach and organizational consultant from Goodyear, Arizona, who recently visited Alaska on a cruise and is already planning a return trip. “Juneau and Ketchikan are such charming small towns. You can stand in the middle of the street and look up and see glorious mountains all around you.”

Looking ahead, Alaska’s Division of Economic Development doesn’t do a formal tourism forecast. “But because changes in cruise ship deployment have a significant impact on the Alaska visitor market—51 percent of year-round visitors and 59 percent of the summer market—cruise industry schedules for Alaska provide a good indicator of what to expect,” said Caryl McConkie, the agency’s development specialist.

Cruise Lines International Association Alaska estimated that the state will see 972,000 cruise visitors during 2014, compared with 999,600 during 2013, due in part to the redeployment of two Princess ships to Asia.

“Strong early bookings for 2015 indicate that we may make up for some of the loss of passengers in 2014,” McConkie said, “Princess is replacing the Island Princess with the larger Ruby Princess in 2015, increasing lower berth capacity by just over 1,000 passengers per voyage.”

Climate change might help the 2016 cruise season warm up as well.

Since the 1990s, expedition-style cruise companies such as Polar Cruises, have offered sailings on smaller ships (with up to 199 passengers) that leave traditionally plied Alaska waters to explore Iceland, Greenland and sections of the Northwest Passage, which connects the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.

In 2016, Crystal Cruises plans to be the first luxury line to navigate the Northwest Passage route.

During a cruise from Aug. 16 to Sept. 17, 2016, the 68,000-ton Crystal Serenity, which carries 1,070 passengers, will travel from Anchorage/Seward to New York City, through Arctic waterways historically not navigable by large ships.

On its website, Crystal explains that a cruise is now possible because the “amount of ice in the Northwest Passage has declined considerably over the years, especially at the end of the summer in the southern reaches of the Passage,” creating a window of time when its 13-deck vessel will have minimal risk of running into “ice concentrations.”

Prices for the voyage start at $19,975 per person.

(My story about tourism in Alaska first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior).