Expedition cruising is on the rise, especially for the more adventurous bucket list souls out there (like me!), but —luxury expedition cruises—is there such a thing? The answer is yes, and Hapag-Lloyd’s new HANSEATIC inspiration has them in spades. The HANSEATIC Inspiration is an international ship that allows you to explore your audacious side, while still leaving room for onboard relaxation so you can enjoy a 5-star experience on the water. Small boats combined with active itineraries will have you on a Zodiac through the glaciers of Antartica by day, and sipping champagne on your balcony by night.
About Hapag-Lloyd Cruises
Hapag-Llyod Cruises has a very long history of being an innovator in its field. In fact, they essentially were the leaders in cruising. It all began in 1891 when the Auguste Victoria, Germany’s largest passenger ship, embarked on the world’s first-ever pleasure cruise. From there Hapag-Llyod Cruises only continued to grow.
Over a century later, they are now known for providing small, luxury cruises to places near and far. They travel from the Middle East to Africa to Antarctica, and everywhere in between. In fact, their larger luxury ship, the MS Europa 2, took me to through idyllic port towns of Spain and the HANSEATIC Inspiration cruised me through Portugal and on to Morocco. Each cruise ship offers a unique experience of its own with hundreds of destinations, along with shore and on-board programs for everyone.
Whichever you choose, the company prides themselves on 5-star service with the attitude of leaving ‘no wish unfulfilled’. And I loved it. But, what’s not to love about service that exceeds expectations where they pay attention to the smallest details of day-to-day life onboard? It makes the sea days just as desirable as the days at port.
What is an Expedition Cruise?
Expedition cruising involves smaller ships, that combine adventurous itineraries with educational exploration. The destinations on expedition cruises are usually off-the-beaten-path places, while onboard entertainment includes enrichment programs and lectures. These trips are conducted by an expedition team who enrich the guests with presentations on various aspects of the destination like its history, culture, ecology, and anthropology amongst other things.
The passenger ships of expedition cruises are relatively smaller with a shallow draught, this allows them to reach the far off and less visited places that hold extraordinary beauty. Hapag-Lloyd cruises give you a chance to experience the true essence of expeditionary voyaging, with the perks of some high-class luxury touches to spruce it up.
The HANSEATIC Inspiration Expedition Cruise Ship
There are actually three HANSEATIC expedition ships in the Hapag-Lloyd fleet. The HANSEATIC nature and HANSEATIC spirit are German-speaking ships, whereas the Hanseatic inspiration is an international ship that is conducted in both German and English. They are designed for all year round trips in all climates, so whether you wish to explore the thick and lush mangrove forests of the Amazon, or admire the glaciers and ice peaks of Antarctica, these ships will give you a whole new perspective of all the far-flung breathtaking landscapes and sceneries the world has to offer. They take you through the unspoiled native villages with rich culture and ancient traditions that leave you with a truly worthwhile experience.
Routes of HANSEATIC Ships: Hanseatic ships touch the lesser known parts of thrilling destinations filled with natural beauty, exotic animal sightings and much more. The ships sail through the deep fjords and ice-covered waterways of Antarctic, as well as through Greenland, Canada, and Alaska, where mighty glaciers and eccentric rock formations awaits you. But that’s not all, you could also be cruising through the dense jungles of the Amazon or stick closer to home on a cruise of the hard-to-access Great Lakes. You can see all the current routes on the Hapag-Lloyd website.
With a handful of Zodiac boats and a retractable glass-floor balcony, the HANSEATIC inspiration can squeeze into narrow passages and reach the idyllic shores of exotic locales for unique excursions. Onboard, the luxury expedition cruise ships have a capacity of 230 passengers, but with all the open deck space it will feel like only a handful are cruising with you. Plus, the learning opportunities onboard allow you to delve deeper into the destination, pushing you to discover more about new cultures.
I was lucky enough to be onboard the inaugural cruise of the HANSEATIC inspiration, and the ship is nothing short of spectacular. You would typically think that expedition cruises don’t offer the luxury amenities that some larger ships can, but think again. From artisanal cheeses to high-end cigars to Nespresso machines in the room, you will want the inspiration to take you to Antartica and beyond.
Food and Drinks Onboard
Definitely bring your appetites with you on the HANSEATIC inspiration cruise, because with three delicious restaurant options, along with lounges and bars, you will not go hungry. You may even come home a few pounds heavier—I certainly did!
- Lido Restaurant: the Lido restaurant offers a casual dining buffet, but this is not just your typical buffet. To start with, there is real glassware (not those red plastic cups you get on the giant cruise ships), placemats adorn every table and your silverware is tucked into little felt pouches. As far as the food goes, you may find everything from marinated shrimp to smoked salmon to freshly hung honeycomb to slather on your toast. You have the option to enjoy your meal either inside or outside in the open air. One night instead of having a more formal dinner my husband and I loaded our plates with the Lido’s artisanal cheese, charcuterie and breads, then headed to the Observation Lounge and grabbed a glass of wine. It felt like we were having fancy appetizers in our own private wine bar!
- HANSEATIC Restaurant: The HANSEATIC restaurant is the biggest one on cruise, serving meals that give you a taste of different cultures and traditions. One evening you may find a Viennese goulash and the next a spicy beef salad. You can’t go wrong with any of their sous vide meat dishes (they know how to do meat deliciously!), but if they happen to have the lobster on the evening you are there—order it! My husband and I agreed that it was the best lobster of our lives.
- Nikkei: Nikkei is a trendy Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant. Because I had just recently been back from hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and Japan is one of my favorite countries, this restaurant had a special appeal to me. You can pick and choose your à la carte dishes or order the entire 5-course dinner of chef recommendations, that’s what we did and this is what was on the menu:
- Veal tenderloin with ginger, soy, creme fraiche, caviar of trout
- Prawns yakitori with chimichurri, lemon and cress
- Shrimp ramen with spinach, chili, scallions and fried chicken
- Spicy lamb with sweet potato, nori and chilli
- Matcha cheesecake with blood orange sorbet and crispy wild rice
Because it is such a special place, you must plan on eating there at least once during your cruise. We had such a memorable time that we went there again on our last night with the Expedition Director. It was just as good.
- Artisan Food Market: One afternoon we arrived back from a morning excursion and the pool deck had been turned into and artisan food market, complete with local wine, cheeses and caviar. Long communal tables with white tablecloths replaced the lounge chairs and about a half dozen stalls surrounded them. There was even an olive oil booth where you chose your favorite blend and pair it with one of their different salts (always black salt for me!).
- Invisible Lounge: You may walk by this small hidden lounge a few times before you realize it’s even there. It’s a humidor, where you could partake in a fine cigar as you watch the waves go by. But, I usually stopped by in the morning with my glass of orange juice to read the daily news.
- Observation Lounge: Found on the 8th floor, the Observation Lounge was where my husband Peter and I spent a lot of our free time, either sipping loose leaf jasmine tea, flipping through one of their 100s of travel books (a little piece of heaven for me!) or getting a glass of Shiraz before heading to dinner. The centerpiece is a large globe with monitors that show the current location of all the Hapag-Lloyd cruise ships, including the HANSEATIC inspiration. But, the real crème de la crème of the room is the large full-glass windows that gives you a 180-degree view of the sea.
- Pool Bar – What’s a cruise ship pool without a pool bar? Of course the HANSEATIC inspiration has one, but you’ll hardly ever visit it. Why? Because the service is so good that you won’t need to leave your lounge chair. The only reason I went to the pool bar was to load up on the soft-serve ice cream that was located right next to it!
- Atrium Bar: The Atrium Bar is attached to the HANSEATICatrium, the main gathering room for lectures and such. You can hit it up before a meal, but it’s mostly popular after dinner when either the jukebox is playing some oldies or the pianist is expertly working the keys.
Onboard Entertainment & Activities
Of course there are plenty of adventurous (and more mellow) excursions to choose from at each and every port, but being onboard can be just as entertaining. Here’s a taste of what they have to offer:
- Pool & Hot Tub: The heated pool may not be big enough for laps, but it’s definitely big enough to be refreshed, nevertheless. There’s also a whirlpool tub to sooth your aching muscles after an adventurous expedition and lounge chairs to bask in the sun.
- Piano Music: Nightly, both the Observation Lounge and the HANSEATICatrium had lovely pianists come in playing popular oldies. My husband and I turned this low-key entertainment into a game of “Name that Tune” amongst ourselves.
- Informational Lectures: Evenings are surely a more lively time, but during the afternoons, onboard entertainment is mainly focused around informative lectures and learning. There are experts, historians and scientists who give lectures in the atrium that give you insights about the cultural heritage and traditions related to a port destination. We attended an interesting one about gardens and how they came to be in the Middle East and Portugal.
- Cocktail Hours – Who doesn’t love a good cocktail hour? It’s always my favorite time of the day! Every night onboard there was a cocktail hour just before dinner in the Observation Lounge, and we never missed it. Staff would pass around pretty appetizers to whet your appetite before dinner, as cruisers sipped on the specialty cocktail made for that particular evening. But, for me it was always a glass of Shiraz.
- Ocean Academy – The Ocean Academy is an interactive room designed for expedition education. You can sit at the large touch screens to digitally explore the earth, sky and ocean or use the microscopes to take in a close up view of natural wonders. My husband disappeared for a couple hours only to find he was in there learning about icebergs and glaciers!
- Zodiac Rides: Though some expedition routes require the use of zodiacs to squeeze into narrow passages or just for an up-close experience, sometimes they will put the motorized rafts out just for a spin around the boat. It’s a unique opportunity to get a perspective of the cruise ship from the water, so don’t miss it.
- Sports Club: If adventurous excursions aren’t enough exercise for you, then hit up the fully-equipped sports club. You can work-out on your own or join one of their fitness classes. Not gonna lie, I didn’t even step foot in there with the intention of exercising, but kudos to everyone that does.
- Spa: Manicures, pedicures, massages…oh my. Allow yourself to get spoiled a little with a treatment, or visit their salon to get a cut and style.
- Internet: I know, I know—vacations are meant to be a time to be disconnected, BUT, The boat offers one free hour of internet per day for those of us that need a little connection to the outside world! For most people on holiday this is plenty, but even if it wasn’t they charge by the minute after the one hour is up instead of just charging you a large fee to have WiFi the entire cruise. I definitely prefer this, because you only pay for what you use. Oh, and on my leg of the cruise the internet was pretty dang strong. Even on my sea day I was able to upload photos to instagram!
- Inspiration Walk: The HANSEATIC inspiration offers you a short, but intense walk at the bow of the boat where you may be the first to see a penguin on an iceberg or whales jumping out of the water. When I took the walk, it was just a breathtaking endless sea of blue.
HANSEATIC Inspiration Cabins
Each cabin on the ship is simplistic, yet well designed for comfort and practicality. There are cubbies, cabinets and drawers in every nook and cranny. Even after unpacking the two of us, we still had lots of unused space. It is also pretty hi-tech (it put my Siri at home to shame!), there was a touch-screen panel to operate everything from the lights to the air conditioning.
Our room had a French balcony which allowed us to open the window to get some fresh sea air and to peek out with the binoculars that they supplied. But, the absolute best part was the Nespresso machine stocked with supplies (I remember that from the ms Europa 2 too!)—there’s something to be said for quality coffee that I don’t have to get out of my pajamas for!
With the room’s satellite range and TV, you can also connect to the Internet and access daily programs, menus and much more. They had a handful of free English movies available, and we watched them all.
Ports on My HANSEATIC Inspiration Trip
The HANSEATIC fleet can take you all over the world, though Antartica may be what these expedition cruises are best known for. My portion of the inauguration cruise brought me to Portugal and Morocco (not too shabby!). There was a lot to do during our stops, with lovely weather to enjoy outdoor adventures and explore the natural and cultural beauty. Here’s a taste of a few ports that were truly memorable for me.
Portimao is known as the crown jewel of Algarve, known for its picturesque beaches, medieval forts and old quarter. We spent our time there roaming through the cobbles streets taking countless photos of the weathered building.
This port was a check off the bucket list, it was my first time ever in Morocco (thank you Hapag-Lloyd Cruises for taking me there!). We popped onto the ship’s organized city tour to get a good overview of the city. The excursion took us to the third largest mosque in the world, a local market and to the pretty royal palace. Though the visit was way too short, it left me wanting more.
Porto Santo Island, Portugal
I love a good beach town, and Portugal’s Porto Santo was definitely one of them. Have you ever heard of it? The pretty Portugese island may be small, but it has a lot of beauty and outdoor activities to enjoy. The beach is also adorned by a lineup of tasteful bars and cafes to keep you happy during long walks (we can’t recommend Pe Na Agua enough, their grilled shrimp was to die for!). The Pico de Ana Ferreira mountain peak offers some of the most breathtaking views of the island and Ponta da Calheta is a great spot to relax and unwind while enjoying the sunset.
Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
Funchal was my favorite stop on the cruise—you can’t really go wrong with narrow cobbled streets, gorgeous gardens, great restaurants and lots of shopping. The rustic and quaint city faces the Atlantic Ocean and has a beautiful backdrop of hills. It is famous for its harbor and is filled with gardens and wine cellars. I loved the old town vibes of the city with several restored historic places of significance, like the Forte de Sao Tiago. Don’t miss the Monte Cable Car that gives you the best view of the city or a visit to the Monte Palace Tropical Garden, it is a showstopper! It’s been voted one of the best tropical gardens in the world and it ain’t hard to see why.
All in all, I’d say the HANSEATIC inspiration ship has several unique elements that really sets it apart. The ship is very stylish and cutting-edge in terms of entertainment, services, décor, and programs. The touch of luxury can be felt as soon as you start your trip, with LED video walls displaying the most exciting images of the journey you’ll take. The combination of both onboard experiences and unique exploration was a winner on every level.