Posted by: cruise2 | 15 November, 2010

A Unique FRAM Voyage

The cruiseliner MS «Fram» on its maiden voyage...

Image via Wikipedia

Some months ago I walked out of the office of The Cruise People, here in 
Toronto, clutching a copy of the current hurtigruten brochure for Arctic 
and Antarctic expeditions aboard Fram. After I got home and finished reading, I 
realized that the last 2010 Arctic voyage ended at Halifax and the first 
to the Antarctic began from Buenos Aires, But there was nothing about 
how the ship would get from the former port to the latter. Deadheading, 
I thought, but to satisfy my curiosity I visited the website 
hurtigruten.com. It was there that I discovered that Fram would indeed 
accept passengers on this non-stop 23-day voyage.

The voyage could not be booked through a travel agency, but only by 
direct application to Fram's Chief Purser by e-mail or phone. Fares were 
remarkably low. For about $116 a day I could have an outside double 
cabin, and there was no supplement for single occupancy. Inside cabins 
cost less, mini-suites and suites cost more. The rate included travel, 
accommodation and three meals per day. Incidentally, when Fram concludes 
her Antarctic season in March 2011 she will accept passengers from 
Buenos Aires to Lisbon at the same rate. As I had made 18 hurtigruten 
voyages along the coast of Norway, the Chief Purser notified me that I 
could have either a 10 per cent discount or an upgrade to a mini-suite. 
I chose the latter.

And so I boarded Fram at Halifax on October 9, a long 5,750 nautical 
miles from Buenos Aires. Docked close by was the huge cruise ship Aida 
Luna which overshadowed Fram considerably. Fram, though, is not exactly 
a small ship. Completed in 2007 by Fincantieri and carrying an Ice 
Classification of 1A/1B, she has a gross tonnage of 11,647. Her overall 
length is 114 metres (375 feet), her beam is 20 metres (66 feet).  Her 
main engine is an MAK 6 M25, developing 7,920kW, giving her a service 
speed of about 15 knots. She has 136 cabins and suites, giving her a 
berthed-passenger capacity of 318. She spends summers in the Arctic 
(Spitsbergen, Iceland, Greenland), winter in the Antarctic and spring in 
Western Europe.

What follows are random notes about the ship and the voyage. Keep in 
mind that Halifax to Buenos Aires was a one-off experience and what I 
write may not always be applicable to the ship's published voyages.

Shortly after we left Halifax a reception was held for the nine 
passengers. It was attended by the ship's master, Capt. Rune Andreassen, 
and other officers. It was an informal occasion and throughout the 
voyage, almost everything was informal (except for the safety session). 
Of the nine passengers, two were holdovers from the Reykjavik to Halifax 
voyage. Of the others, four were American, two German and one Canadian 
(me).  We were all quite compatible. On my voyage, officers and crew, 
including hotel staff, numbered 62. This included a doctor and nurse. At 
Buenos Aires more hotel staff and enrichment lecturers were due to board..

It is important to remember that Fram is a purpose-built expedition ship 
and not a conventional cruise ship. If you are looking for a spa, an art 
auction, a ship's photographer, an entertainer, a cruise director or 
gold chain at $1 per inch (or whatever the price is), you have strayed 
aboard the wrong ship. That said, Fram is not short of amenities. She 
has a shop that sells mostly high-quality Norwegian knitwear and other 
items and she does have a bar where prices of drinks are more or less 
similar to those in cruise ships. She offers enrichment lectures by 
noted authorities.

Fram's senior officers are mostly Norwegian. Waiters, waitresses and 
cabin attendants are Filipino and Filipina. Whereas on hurtigruten 
("express route") voyages in Norway itself the hotel staff are Norwegian 
and apparently well paid (and the brochure states that tips are not 
required), it is different in Fram where the suggested gratuity is $8 
per person per day.

After leaving Halifax, land remained out of sight until we saw the coast 
of Uruguay the day before the voyage ended. Occasionally birds flew 
around the ship and from time cargo vessels could be seen on or near the 
horizon. Otherwise, we had the ocean to ourselves.

Anyone who has sailed the Norwegian coastal voyage in the ships from the 
1990s and early 2000s will feel quite at home in Fram. Her layout is 
similar, but her passenger capacity is lower and maybe she is a little 
more spacious in relation to her passenger capacity. Fram was built to 
take her place on the Norwegian coastal voyage if required but so far 
this has not happened.

The main lounge on the eight-deck ship is on Deck 7 forward. It has 
full-length inward-sloping windows on three sides and also overhead 
windows. The chairs are comfortable, the bar is handy, there is a piano 
and dance floor, and there are two telescopes to magnify the scenery. 
The lounge also has a library with books mostly in English and German 
that describe the Arctic and Antarctic regions as well as a limited 
selection of fiction. For my part, I took along a dozen books that I had 
been promising myself to read for many years (decades, in some 
cases)--and finally I did. Also on Deck 7 was a well-equipped fitness 
room that contained exercise cycles of various kinds, treadmills, 
weights and devices whose purpose I could not discern. There was also a 
table-tennis table. Just aft of the gym were two outdoor Jacuzzis which 
were heated up and ready to use almost every day. One deck above were 
the men's and women's saunas and they too were fully operative 
throughout the voyage. Still on the topic of fitness, Fram does not have 
a wrap-around deck for jogging or walking but a fair amount can be 
achieved on decks 5 and 7.

The open decks are made of steel which is covered by a patterned rubber 
or rubber-like substance, maybe almost half-an-inch thick, which makes 
jogging a little more pleasant. There were many deck chairs, all of them 
of the sit-up rather than stretch-out variety. Some were wooden but most 
were of lightweight tubular metal with horizontal blue vinyl straps, 
similar to those what were common in cruise ships about 25 years ago.

Before I boarded I wondered where the handful of passengers would eat. 
Officers' mess? Crew mess? It was neither. Everyone--officers, crew and 
passengers--ate in the main dining room aft on Deck 4. Also, everyone 
had the full run of the ship, including the main lounge, lobby, arcade 
and bistro. The dress code was casual for everyone from the master down. 
Two waiters had been assigned to the passengers and they were invariably 
dressed in t-shirts--which did not lessen their efficiency at all.

The dining room, like the main lounge, had large windows on three sides. 
It also had something I have not seen elsewhere--an open deck directly 
aft of the dining room, running the width of the ship and maybe about 
six feet deep. At a guess, I would say that this deck allows passengers 
to dash out and photograph scenic areas then return to their tables 
before their food grows cold. Speaking of tables, there were two 
principal kinds, rectangular ones for four, round ones for six. There 
was exactly one table for two. Each pair of rectangular tables was 
separated from its close neighbour by a small glass partition. I had a 
table all to myself although my fellow passengers entreated me to join 
them. Actually I did join them on about seven or eight occasions when 
dinner consisted of a barbecue held on Deck 7. A barbecue is a pleasant 
way of eating, especially when there are no mosquitoes to spoil the 
occasion.

Food was self-service, buffet style, for all three meals but our two 
waiters brought orange juice and coffee to the passenger tables and 
cleared away the dishes. The food was good and there was always a choice 
of items. For example, at breakfast there were always two or three kinds 
of rolls, two or three varieties of bread and four kinds of pastries, 
four or more kinds of cheese, eggs (boiled, fried, omelettes), and 
several kinds of cold fish and meat. Everything was attractively laid 
out. Many of the dishes were typically Norwegian, but there were also 
dishes that were prepared to appeal to Filipino tastes--and passengers 
were welcome to try them.  I certainly enjoyed my meals but it is 
possible that on regular voyages dinner may possibly be a little more 
sophisticated.

As a passing comment, plates were about seven inches in diameter 
and twelve inches in diameter. You simply chose the plate you wanted and 
selected the food you liked. Almost invariably the young Filipina 
stewardesses, most of them quite small in build, chose the 12-inch 
plate, heaped it to capacity and polished off the contents in short order.

Still on the topic of food, passengers found a ready supply of coffee, 
tea and cookies at the bistro, Deck 4 forward, throughout the day. An 
alcove near the bistro held an assortment of board games such as jig-saw 
puzzles, dominoes, Scrabble, Monopoly and Othello. Close to the bistro 
was the Internet cafe, which charged about $10 per hour or half hour--I 
have forgotten which. Several passengers brought along their laptops, as 
did some of the crew. Just forward of the bistro were two lecture halls. 
On Fram's Arctic and Antarctic voyages, illustrated lectures are a 
principal feature of each expedition.
When I boarded Fram in Halifax I thought the ship looked clean and well 
cared for, just the way she should be. In spite of that an immense 
amount of work was carried out between Halifax and Buenos Aires. On the 
outside decks, wooden rails were scraped, sanded and varnished. Paint 
was applied liberally to outdoor areas on decks 5, 7 and 8. Internally, 
carpets were vacuum cleaned, followed by the application of liquid 
cleaner. Signs that read "wet carpet" proliferated, and corridors and 
stairways were taped off until the carpeting dried. Chairs were turned 
over, cushions shaken then vacuum cleaned. Cabins were thoroughly 
inspected; mattresses were turned over, woodwork was dusted, windows 
were cleaned inside and out and bathrooms were scrubbed down. Overhead 
panels in some corridors were removed, leaving the wiring exposed so 
that repairs could be made. The more obscure areas of the ship were not 
immune.

Early in the voyage, the Filipino/Filipina staff occupied the port side 
of the dining room, but when that area was cleaned and carpeting was 
still wet, they migrated to the starboard side, where the passengers 
ate. Sometimes they shared the same table as me. They were pleasant and 
polite but there was not much communication between them and the 
passengers.

In the evenings, the hotel staff and passengers participated in Fram's 
version of the Olympic Games, held in the forward lounge. Events 
included table tennis, foosball (if I have the name correct), target 
shooting (outdoors with air guns) and karaoke. There were six teams and 
someone had entered my name as part of the dining room team. I did not 
participate or even attend any events but I now possess a certificate, 
signed by the captain, attesting that I was a member of the second-place 
team. The crew took part in the so-called Olympics with great 
enthusiasm. Later in the voyage a Hallowe’en costume party was held and 
it too was a great success from all reports. I wonder, is Hallowe’en 
really observed in the Philippines?

A visit to the bridge was arranged for the passengers one morning and 
Capt. Andreassen patiently answered questions, most of which I suspect 
he had answered many times in the past. Before taking over Fram he had 
spent more than 20 years in the ships of the Norwegian coastal voyage. 
Bridge visits for passengers are held on most voyages but visits to the 
engine room are not. However, on my voyage the passengers had a lengthy 
tour of the engine room conducted by the First Engineer. I have no 
particular technical knowledge, but the engine room was clean, brightly 
lit and noisy. When it was over, the participants assembled in a 
hallway, far from the engine room, where the First Engineer answered 
their questions. On our way to the engine room, we walked through Fram's 
cargo area where the Polarcirkel boats were stored. There are used for 
Arctic and Antarctic landings where no docking facilities exist. The 
Polarcirkel boats are a much improved version of the Zodiacs invented by 
Jacques Cousteau.

I think I mentioned earlier that I occupied a mini-suite. It was on Deck 
5, port side. At a guess, I would say it measured around 200 square 
feet, bathroom included. A stewardess performed the usual duties that 
one would expect on a cruise ship. Like all suites and mini-suites in 
the ship, it was named for a crew member of the original Fram a century 
ago. My suite, nicely carpeted, had a comfortable bed (queen size?) that 
could not be split into two individual beds, a two-person sofa, a coffee 
table, a safe, a writing table with a large mirror, a chair, and shelf 
space. One shelf contained tea- and coffee-making supplies. There was a 
large window that opened onto the open section of Deck 5. The bathroom 
was quite small but it contained all the necessities and was well lit. 
Like the ships on the Norwegian coastal voyage, the bathroom had a 
heated floor. The shower was glass enclosed. I took a look in a regular 
cabin and noticed that the shower had a curtain rather than a glass 
door. Storage was sufficient for me but I wonder if it would be enough 
if two people occupied the suite. There was a modern flat-screen 
television but we were too far from land to receive news programmes. 
Movies included Rocky IV, Rocky V and The Da Vinci Code. Having read The 
Da Vinci Code some years ago and been numbed by its banality, I was not 
tempted to watch the movie.

Like most passenger ships, Fram had artwork in the cabins and in public 
rooms. The prints in the cabin left me baffled. They were by a Greenland 
artist. Maybe they meant something to art-conscious Greenlanders but I 
was not the only passenger who was at a loss. The larger works were 
easier to relate to but their identification labels were at waist level 
rather than at eye level.

And so the voyage continued. For much of the time, the ship sailed 
between 10 and 12 knots, occasionally exceeding 12 knots slightly and 
sometimes dropping to about 9.7 or 9.8 knots. The ship uses a light fuel 
which is possibly now mandatory in remote regions such as the Antarctic. 
The sea was comparatively calm for almost the whole voyage. Only for the 
first few days was there even a hint of rough seas, and it was an almost 
imperceptible hint. Days with sunshine far outnumbered days without 
sunshine.

On the evening prior to our arrival at Buenos Aires, we picked up a 
pilot off Montevideo. The following morning, 31 October, we were due to 
dock at Buenos Aires at eight o'clock. However, strong winds prevented 
Fram and other ships from entering the harbour. We finally docked at the 
container terminal at six in the evening. I stayed aboard until the next 
morning, then took a taxi to the airport where I began the long flight 
back to Toronto.

I am glad I made the voyage, but possibly I would have enjoyed it more 
if it had been a few days shorter. But that's a personal opinion.
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  1. […] A Unique FRAM Voyage | The Cruise … – 15-11-2010 · A Unique FRAM Voyage. Image via Wikipedia. … clutching a copy of the current hurtigruten brochure for Arctic and Antarctic expeditions aboard Fram…. […]


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