Turtle, Ecuador

Your words, not ours

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Your Words - We tell it like it is! Holiday Reviews by previous Exodus travellers  

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  • Reviewed July 2016
    Jackie Freshfield

    Spectacular Spitsbergen July 2016

    A very, very special trip that kept on delivering five-star sightings right to the very last moment.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Too many to choose from… the polar bear right under the bow? The Mexican stand off between two bears on ice right beside us? The bloodied bear feasting on seal surrounded by ivory gulls? Getting up close and personal with walrus around the zodiac? Three-day old Arctic fox cubs? Stunning light in the pack ice that turned our photographs into artwork? And I haven’t even mentioned the whales – bowhead, beluga, fin, minke and blue. Just incredible!

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Paul Goldstein is all about delivery, and that’s why he has such repeat business – close encounters with wildlife are just addictive. Very sadly his wing-man on this trip, Mark Carwardine, was taken ill and had to fly home before the trip left Longyearben so the burden was all on Paul to deliver good cop AND bad cop tactics on the photography front, as well as liaise with the expedition staff to ensure that we maximized our opportunities to see the manifold delights of this incredible archipelago. He did a fantastic job. This was a photographic charter and Paul’s determination for us to fill our memory cards with nothing but the best wildlife viewings – taking into account the major melt this year that required us to go beyond 81 degrees north into the pack ice – paid off handsomely. Nate was a great Expedition Team leader, and kudos to the team members who worked tirelessly to bring us the best wildlife encounters. Particular mention to the Captain of the Vavilov, who seemed able to turn that wonderful ship on a 10p piece when required to manoeuvre closer to a feasting polar bear.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Take the best camera and lens that you can afford, and don’t forget a wide-angle lens as the wildlife can be close and the scenery is stunning. Take a lap-top so you can back up and review your photos to release your memory cards – you’ll need all the space you can get, and delete as you go. I found handwarmers very useful to slip into my gloves before an excursion or if we had wildlife close to the ship and were outside for hours at a time. Inside the ship it can be very warm, so bring layers rather than heavy jumpers; and soft trainer style shoes for the ship is fine; it’s very casual on board so leave your finery at home. Don’t get stressed by the photography aspect and remember to just watch sometimes. The Arctic is a very special place, so if you are still hesitating, then do take the plunge (but not literally!); it’s not just the wildlife and scenery, the trip is also great fun and generally full of like-minded people who enjoy a drink and a laugh in the bar after a fabulous excursion.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    You might think that this is a once in a lifetime trip. It’s not. You’ll be hooked.
  • Reviewed July 2016
    Samantha Gargour

    Spitsbergen July 2016 with Paul Goldstein

    I've always judged an adventure by the moments that take my breath away and this Polar Expedition presented these in abundance. To be able to share wildlife moments of such rarity with passionate expert staff on board was a true privilege. It is impossible to explain these events as even the many photos will not do them justice. There is no fixed itinerary and any photographic opportunity is maximised by the 24hr daylight. 'Ships in harbour are safe but that's not what ships are built for' and that is certainly not what the Akademik Sergey Vavilov for. If you are looking for adventure, safety, silence and exceptional manoeuvring skills there cannot be a better ship. The captain and expedition leader were always mindful to position us in the best possible location for photographic opportunities, all the while being mindful and respectful of the wildlife environment. Magnificent glaciers, bowhead whales, polar bears, walrus, arctic foxes, reindeer, you name it, we had it. Travelling with like minded wildlife enthusiasts and photographers alike created new friendships and wonderful memories.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Inspirational is a good choice of adjective for this trip as a whole. Not a moment went by when I was not aware of the environment I was in. Every Polar Bear encounter superseded the next but a truly special experience was being woken at 6am to share our early hours with the majestic bowhead whales. The One Ocean crew were also each inspirational in their own right. It was a privilege to be led by them.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Paul is exceptional at what he does. As with all trips with him, he works tirelessly to deliver. Top wildlife encounters are few and far between but it seems that most of the ones I've had have been on his trips. You can see why he has so many repeat clients. His charismatic daily nautical views eloquently summarised our moment in time, which most of us could not put into words. He gave many presentations on photography for all levels and sessions in the bar to review our photos, all adding to the benefit of a photographic charter.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Life is short. If you can, do it. Expect to be woken at all hours, better yet, don't sleep! The trip notes are detailed and pretty much tell you all you need to know. Bring hand warmers for those long days scoping for bears (highly recommended). Layers are key and take Paul's advice on how balmy it is with a pinch of salt! Always pack extra in your rucksack for the zodiac trips, just in case. You never know when a 2 hour planned ride can become a 4 hour one. Most of all, put the camera down from time to time and take it all in.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Thank you to Exodus team for a well organised trip, Kim Christie who was very helpful with information pre-departure and Andrea who was on hand during the trip. Double check any items to take with them, as this can change year on year (i.e Binoculars & dry bags were provided for us in our cabins this year)
  • Reviewed July 2016
    Alison Telfer

    Spitsbergen Explorer - Polar Bears and More!

    A fantastic, amazing journey up to 81 degrees north (and a bit more!) with Exodus and Paul Goldstein and lots of new friends. The notes tell you what to expect (early morning calls, delayed meals, cold zodiac rides) and believe it for you get it all - and more. Polar bears so close they looked like they wanted to get on board the ship, walrus in the water so close you could almost touch them from the zodiac, Arctic Fox cubs playing in the sunshine, fabulous seas and skies, wonderful staff to help, inspire and support, excellent food (well done chefs!) and a fog bow! (I didn't know there was such a thing!). Reindeer with young in the tundra and - more polar bears. Blue whale, bowhead whale (so rare they were not even on the "tick off" list of sightings), minke whales and birds, birds, birds. Fabulous!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    My first polar bear on ice. Simply stunning.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Excellent. All the "blue shirts", led by Nate, were first class, experienced, confident, helpful and friendly. Could not have asked for more.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Be prepared for anything, from flight delays with SAS to sudden changes in the weather. Take plenty of memory cards for your camera and a tripod for the deck as you watch the bears amble closer (don;t really need a monopod) and your sense of humour. Above all, remember it is an Adventure of a Lifetime!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Enjoy, don't get competitive about your photos and remember they are your memories, even if not competition standard they are yours.
  • Reviewed September 2013
    Anonymous .

    SPITSBERGEN EXPLORER

    An excellent trip. Well organised. Great ship, accommodation and food. Lots of wildlife to see (depending on the weather). Having also been to Antarctica it was difficult not to compare. Although harder to get to and more expensive, the south has it for me (if anyone can't decide which trip to do). Nevertheless - a great experience!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Seeing your first polar bear is very exciting. We also saw unfortunately a dead polar bear which seemed to have dropped dead in its tracks (most likely from starvation according to our guides). Apparently it has not been good recently for ice and the bears are struggling to find food. We were told if things carry on as they are you will be able to kayak to the north pole in 40 years time!I had a great time on the ship meeting lots of interesting people from all corners of the globe. Everyone has a story to tell. 

    What did you think of your group leader?

    John Rodsted was our Group Leader. A 50+ Australian who had seen the world several times over and was an excellent communicator. He did his best with the captain of the ship to get us into all sorts of places to see whatever wildlife was available. You somehow felt safe with him around.In fact all of ther staff and guide were brilliant. All of them were high achievers and had some amazing stories to tell and presentations to give.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    If I was going again, I would probably go earlier in the season in the hope of encountering more sea ice hence more seals hence more polar bears on the ice. Also be aware that Longyearbyen is little more than a few houses, sheds and one small 'shopping' street. You can walk round it easily in half an hour, but it is quite quaint in it's own way. There are two museums however.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    If you are spending anytime in Norway other than on the ship, be prepared to spend money.  Everything is much more expensive than in the UK e.g. £30 for two small beers and a cheese sandwich! Everywhere takes credit cards though (even on the buses) so don't worry about not having cash.
  • Reviewed September 2013
    Anonymous .

    SPITSBERGEN EXPLORER

    Amazing wildlife, stunning landscapes with action packed days of zodiac trips and hikes for all abilities. a great wilderness expedition providing you are prepared for flexibility given the unpredictable wildlife, weather and sea conditions.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Sailing into pack ice and spotting a polar bear which came leaping across the broken ice to check us out and then got bored and sat down for a sleep once deciding we werent edible!meeting the walrus up close and personal when they decided to come and check us out on the beach leading to a steady retreat to safe range! watching a hungry bear attack a walrus colony.seeing the midnight sun from the bridge of the ship on 2 nightswatching 4 humpbacks bubblenet feeding off the bow for an hour ar 1am! 100,000 guillemots nesting on cliffsclimbing the glacier and seeing the water channels corkscrewing to the seahiking up moraines and mountains for breathtaking viewsfantastic colours of ice and glaciers and reflections in dead calm waters with pure clear light.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Delphine was very good, everything revolved round safety but she did her best to offer some sort of activities everyday apart from one day where sea fog meant we had to continue to sail.all the guides were knowledgeable and enthusiastic,

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Go with an open mind, its not luxury cruising and you cant predict weather or wildlife encounters but seize every moment of wonder as it happens and you will remember this trip for a lifetime.i thought the ship (plancius) was remarkably quiet and stable given 35knots of wind and 4m swell on occasion. some people struggled with seasickness. To make the most of the trips and hikes you need to be fit and mobile, the terrain is very rocky and steep in places if you do the serious hikes. take several clothes changes as you can get very wet with spray from the zodiacs. waterproof rucksack was invaluable! Layers are a good way to keep warm but waterproofs are a must. Be prepared for a very multinational trip. 50% were chinese and could be loud and pushy but generally people were friendly and the atmosphere very informal.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    The spitzbergen guesthouse is a glorified youth hostel with shared loo/showers per floor. we were not told that at any stage which was a nasty shock when we thought we were staying in the radisson equivalent.the longyearbyen to oslo flight stops in tromso and you have to decamp and go thro customs. we were not told that either, this meant quite tight connections.take lots of memory cards, you will never have enough!food was very good and alcohol not as extortionate as mainland norway.
  • Reviewed July 2013
    Anonymous .

    SPITSBERGEN EXPLORER

    Svalbard is a truly unique place - simply breath taking. The holiday was packed with excitement and activities, there was always something to see or do. The activities were quite spontaneous depending on the pack ice, sea state and what wildlife was in the area, but the flexibility worked brilliantly and allowed us to get the maximum from our time on the voyage.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Kayaking in beautiful glacial lagoons was amazing, but with seals swimming alonside and polar bears close by it made the experience even more magical... The wildlife was so close. Even from the ship we had fantastic sightngs of whales, walrus, polar bears and seals. The zodiac cruises allowed us to travel into some hidden away places and see so much more, including arctic fox and rare birds. Seeing polar bears close up and thein their own environment was definitely the highlight!

    What did you think of your group leader?

    The guides on board M/V Plancius were enthusiastic, experienced, knowlegable and very professional. At all times we were in safe hands. The crew were friendly and helpful and everything was taken care of perfectly.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    If you are intersted in nature and wildlife or photography then do not hesitate to book this arctic voyage, it has so much to offer! Once on board you can do as little or as much as you want, but there are some amazing adventures always waiting to be had in such a wild and beautiful place. As long as you have the right clothing and equipment whatever the weather is doing you will be smiling!!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    This voyage really is the trip of a life time, so much to see and do in such a special place...
  • Reviewed January 2013
    Anonymous .

    SPITSBERGEN EXPLORER

    The ship on which we travelled was totally fit for purpose allowing access to areas of the Svalbard Archipelago in the far north of Norway that are not navigable by larger vessels. We were able to explore fjords and the landmass of the Arctic Circle by means of the zodiacs on board and thus really experience the wildlife, the terrain and the ice formations that make the region unique. 

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Of the course the most wished for spectacle is to see a polar bear close up and although they are elusive we managed to see three - two at a distance via binoculars but one obligingly swam towards the Vavilov and then alongside so that we had a real close up of this amazing creature. It was also magical to see the magnificent structure and colour of icebergs close up and the pattern of the ice mass on the water as the ship swept through it. Then there was the occasion when we temporarily lost sight of the ship when a fog came down and the ice floes closed around the zodiacs creating an eerie atmosphere that was a reminder of the wilderness that is the essence of the region and the challenge faced by early explorers.      

    What did you think of your group leader?

    The group leader was excellent. He and his team provided a varied programme that reflected the weather conditions and the desire to provide passengers with the best opportunities to see and experience the diversity of landscape, flora and fauna that is particular to the area.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Be prepared for the cold and be patient. The wildlife can be hard to locate and a good pair of binoculars are essential to join in with the challenging and exciting task of spotting whales, bears, seals and other creatures that thrive in the Arctic.  

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    The Vavilov (and similar sister ships) is comfortable, manoeuvrable and with a small enough passenger group to create a friendly atmosphere onboard. The crew are ever helpful and enthusiastic and knowledgeable and there is a communal atmosphere of expectancy as each day brings its share of new vistas and weather conditions and challenges for the excellent sailors on board due to the fact that much of the water ways are uncharted. It is a unique experience to visit the locality and with the Exodus team you are in good hands. 
  • Reviewed January 2013
    Anonymous .

    SPITSBERGEN EXPLORER

    Fantastic experience!  Awesome trip - would highly recommend - journey of a lifetime!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Highlight not only spotting Polar Bears on the Ice pack but a Polar Bear swimming close to the ship!

    What did you think of your group leader?

    The whole of the staff were incredible. they were so experienced and their knowledge was outstanding!

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    This is a trip of a lifetime - something not to be missed!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Outstanding holiday and a wonderful company to travel with!  Their knowledge and experience is first class!
  • Reviewed August 2012
    Anonymous .

    SPITSBERGEN EXPLORER

    This was just a fantastic experience; every day different, every day fascinating; the outside world forgotten in the enormity and beauty of the Arctic. But with a tinge of sadness at the thought that it's being destroyed.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Travelling north into the sea ice, reaching 81°47' N; vast, remote, beautiful, constantly changing. Then watching a polar bear stalk a seal.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Woodie was really excellent - enthusiastic, approachable, informative, humorous. He chose a really good balance of excursion sites and provided a superb experience for the passengers.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    If you're a keen photographer take a computer or tablet so that you can check on each day's progress. But take a film camera too for a different record of the beautiful colours when the sun shines. 

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    We had been to the Arctic once before,  earlier in the seaon (late June / July). It's well worth going twice at different times - the flowers and birds are at different stages.
  • Reviewed January 2012
    Anonymous .

    SPITSBERGEN EXPLORER

    The experience of a lifetime. Absolutely fantastic from start to finish

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Seeing polar bears in their natural setting.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Paul Goldstein is an inspirational leader and great character. His passion and wit really comes across and helped to make the journey something we shall never forget.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Just go!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    We loved every minute of the adventure,The crew members, group leaders, and ship were all exemplary.
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