by Kevin Griffin for cybercruises.com
A nuclear icebreaker, Arktika, was the first surface ship to reach the North Pole, in 1977 (submarines had been there before), and in 1989 the first tourists were taken there, again by nuclear icebreaker. However, after more than a quarter century of this diversion being available each summer for the curious and the wealthy (fares start at £15,965), this opportunity will come to an end in 2015.
Hence the announcement last week by Quark Expeditions that the Russian icebreaker 50 Years of Victory will be withdrawn as an expedition vessel next year. The Victory replaced an earlier nuclear icebreaker, Yamal, five years ago. The end of this era will be marked by Quark offering three final voyages to the North Pole in June 2015.
The Russian icebreaker 50 Years of Victory
“It is with great reluctance that we announce the retirement of Victory as a passenger expedition vessel in 2015,” said Hans Lagerweij, president of Quark Expeditions. “Despite the fact that the ship’s retirement is less than two years away, travellers who hesitate to reserve a cabin may find they have missed the boat – or in this case – the icebreaker.”
One of this year’s two departures is sold out but there is still space on June 30, 2014, as well.
Quark is the first and only North American operator to offer trips to the North Pole aboard 50 Years of Victory. Such voyages have also been offered by Poseidon Expeditions of Moscow since 1999. Only 128 people will have the opportunity to join each of the three final Quark voyages. The company has been offering expeditions aboard 50 Years of Victory since 2009, and has taken over 1150 passengers to 90o North.
After the 2015 season, Quark will have taken almost 1800 passengers from all over world to the North Pole.
To meet demand for the final year, Quark has added a third voyage. Departing on June 3, this early voyage will be 15 days in length, one day longer given the heavy ice conditions, up to 10 feet thick, that Victory will crush through this early in the season. The other two departures, June 15 and June 26, will be 14 days.
Quark is the only tour operator to offer hot air ballooning at the top of the world. Other tours have been offered in the past by helicopter and by submersible to the bottom of the ocean.
There will be a total of six departures next year, a record for the North Pole, as Poseidon Expeditions will offer three later departures in 2015, on July 14, July 25 and the very final voyage on August 5. Per person rates start at $24,995 for the 2014 season, and $25,995 for the final season.
On July 30, 2013 participants in a Poseidon Expeditions North Pole cruise reached 90o North in the 100th arrival at the North Pole in the history of icebreaker navigation. The icebreakers are chartered from the Murmansk Shipping Company of Murmansk.