The Right Ship for the White Continent
Since its debut only two years ago, Atlas Ocean Voyages, the luxury/expedition arm of Portugal-based Mystic Cruises, best known for its fleet of riverboats, has intrigued this small-ship fan. The line launched in 2021 with World Navigator and World Traveller followed in 2022. My sailing today is the maiden voyage of the line’s third yacht, the 9,935 grt, 198-guest World Voyager which, on Antarctica sailings, has a guest capacity of 176 due to the accommodation of an expanded team of expedition leaders.
Atlas Ocean Voyages is an all-inclusive experience with unlimited beverages (fine wines, spirits, craft beers and 24-hour bar service), all dining, pre-paid gratuities, specialty coffees and teas, fresh pressed juices, L’Occitane bath amenities, stocked in-room mini-bar and more. Antarctica expeditions include a free pre-night hotel stay in Buenos Aires, a free charter flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, transfers, a high-quality parka, use of waterproof Muck Boot Company knee boots, walking sticks, binoculars, and zodiac excursions. Where conditions are suitable, optional kayak and camping excursions are available.
THE SHIP: 10/10
Despite its status as a polar category C Ice Class 1B certified vessel, board World Voyager and you just might think you’re on the way not to the icy Antarctic but to a glamorous world capital. The atmosphere exudes understated elegance, a clean Nordic feel with blonde woods predominating. From the spacious reception area, manned round the clock, I peek into The Atlas Lounge and find the living room I’d love (if I had a really, really big apartment): plush beige couches and armchairs with throw pillows adding pops of color and golden cocktail and side tables topped with quirky lamps that cast a warm glow.
It doesn’t take me very long to realize that World Voyager might be my favorite size ship of all. With just six passenger decks, and only decks 3, 4 and 7 featuring public spaces, her layout is intuitive from the get-go. Continue forward through the Atlas Lounge, and you’ll find the Amerigo Vespucci Auditorium, “auditorium” being way too cold a word to describe this intimate little theater, if you ask me. Backtrack aft and you’ll find Paula’s Pantry, the grab-and-go (or eat in) coffee/tea/snack/sandwich spot, with Voyager Choice Boutique, L’Occitane Sea Spa (which offers facials and massage only) and the Fitness Studio further along.
Even on our cold-weather itinerary, some guests head to deck 7 and its pool area for a dip into the ship’s hot tubs, but they are in the minority (and certainly braver than I). For most, deck 7’s greatest draw is The Dome Observation Lounge where guests flock like cape petrels at any time of day. With its 270- degree views, it’s the perfect place to watch a spectacular sunrise, scan the waters for whales or catch an albatross soaring through the sky. Tea time at The Dome means a wide selection of teas and coffees, along with tiered trays of sweets, canapes and finger sandwiches (I swiped every lemon macaron on offer). But The Dome really comes to life after dinner with its lights turned low, unobtrusive music forming a relaxing backdrop and the cocktail menu (available all day) transforming this magical space into the social heart of the ship.
Yes, World Voyager is clearly a stylish and sophisticated luxury yacht but make no mistake: She has not in her design abandoned her commitment to expedition! Nowhere is that more evident than her ample observation areas, whether floor-to-ceiling windows, open decks or designated observation platforms like Water’s Edge on deck 5 forward which features bench seating that is heated from within! And, deep down on deck 3 is the greatest example of her dedication to expedition: The Mud Room, with a separate parka and boot storage compartment for each suite and stateroom and where guests suit up before heading out to zodiac cruises and shore landings.
Suites aboard World Voyager include the 465 square-foot Navigator Suite, the 445 square-foot Discovery Suite and the 382 square-foot Journey Suite, all with private balconies, butler service and expanded room service menu. Stateroom options range from the 183 square-foot Adventure Oceanview to the 300 square-foot Horizon Deluxe.
I am ensconced in a spacious 270 square-foot Horizon stateroom, with sitting area, sectional, chairs and vanity, coffee/tea maker, stocked mini-bar, firm queen bed with luxury linens and, thank you God, a full-length mirror (why are these becoming so rare on ships??). The top panel of my floor-to-ceiling window opens with the press of a button and the marble bath features a shower with rain head, hand-held and body jet options. A large wall-mounted interactive TV lets me view live lectures and briefings from the comfort of my stateroom, watch movies or TV, and view the day’s menus. And here’s a surprise: One doesn’t require a PhD in electronics to figure out the intuitively placed light switches in the stateroom!
It’s 6:00 a.m. and I shuffle down to Paula’s Pantry for coffee. Half asleep, I am confronted with twelve choices and, it seems, nearly as many choices of milk—seriously? When did coffee become so complicated? I go with the Americano and a splash of regular milk and, since the breakfast buffet doesn’t kick off until 8:00 a.m., pick up a plant-based oat power bar which I immediately become addicted to, despite that “plant-based” thing.
As an early riser, I quickly fall in love with Paula’s Pantry, a simple counter with casual table seating, stocked full of breakfast pastries, yogurts, chia pots, muesli, muffins, donuts, whole fruit and fresh-squeezed juices. And I mean fresh-squeezed. Sure, orange is the go-to, but if you’ve never experienced fresh-squeezed apple juice, it’s life changing. The Pantry stays open until evening with its offerings changing throughout the day: sandwiches and pizza, wraps, salads, and cookies appear close to noon and, in a nod to the line’s heritage, they even serve those delicious little Portuguese custard tarts, pastel de nata.
But Paula’s Pantry is just the appetizer, so to speak. Madeira (another nod to Atlas Ocean Voyages’ Portuguese heritage) is where the real culinary adventures unfold. The sole formal restaurant aboard World Voyager, this spacious and comfortable ocean-view dining room serves up breakfast and lunch buffet style, with a supplemental menu of made-to-order hot dishes like omelets, waffles and frittatas at breakfast and, on my sailing, a fresh and smoky leg of Spanish cinco jotas ham, the world’s most exclusive gourmet ham, cut paper thin by an attendant.
At lunch, you might be tempted to head straight for the ice cream bar, with its rich, creamy and innovative selections (blueberry muffin ice cream, anyone?) served in a crispy waffle-cone bowl, but exercise some control. While no separate menu supplements World Voyager’s lunch buffet, who really needs one when the offerings are plentiful (with a special Vegan section) and include a carving station that offers delectable steaks, rack of lamb or carved pork roast and, at the live cooking station, dishes like an earthy and rich truffle risotto or Asian specialties?
In the evening, Madeira really shines with a menu of globally inspired cuisine, beautifully prepared and artistically presented and, with World Voyager an all-inclusive experience, specially selected wines are offered to complement each course.
All the special occasion favorites are here: Dover sole almondine, beef Wellington, poached lobster, rack of lamb and slow-cooked venison, among them, along with a couple of Italian-accented pasta dishes and always-available choices that include 7 oz. black angus steak, lemon-crusted salmon steak and, for vegans, plant-based mountain steak. In fact, plant-based diners have options at every meal aboard World Voyager and I, a devoted carnivore, found myself intrigued by a few of these offerings myself: the rich pumpkin soup generously garnished with pumpkin seeds and the plant-based crepes Suzette among them.
Aboard World Voyager, however, beef lovers are the biggest winners of all, thanks to the tender and flavorful cuts the line sources from Argentina. While that alone can make a steak-lover’s mouth water, this luscious beef is typically prepared on a Josper grill, a charcoal oven that combines innovation and tradition to impart a barbecued smokiness to the perfectly grilled steak without the flames that are, of course, banned at sea! Ole’!
(Note: For those who prefer expeditions of a more culinary nature, Atlas Ocean Voyages will offer a number of warm-weather “Epicurean Expeditions” in the Mediterranean this summer featuring guest chefs and winemakers, cooking demonstrations, culinary experiences ashore and more. When looking at Atlas cruise offerings, ask about Epicurean Expeditions on Atlas Ocean Voyages.
ENTERTAINMENT: 6/10 (aboard an expedition in Antarctica, you’d need a Rolling Stones concert or Madonna to come anywhere near the entertainment that is provided by the destination itself)
The Crew Show is World Voyager’s Glastonbury, a tremendously entertaining program starring exceptionally gifted crew members who, when they’re not on stage, serve your drinks, deliver your meals, greet you at the entrance to the restaurant or even work behind the scenes in the laundry. With highlights that include a humorous rendition of “Tequila,” a stirring version of Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” a hypnotic Balinese traditional dance and the—I’m not kidding—tear-jerking performance of Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” by the ship’s way-too-talented-to-be-a-cruise-ship-maitre d’ Maitre d’, I’d pay to see this show!
Like most small ships and expeditions, production shows and glittering musical extravaganzas won’t be found aboard World Voyager. Count on a handful of evening cabarets featuring vocalists performing show tunes or pop standards, a performance by the ship’s resident pianist, a dance night and perhaps a film shown in the Americo Vespucci Auditorium.
But it’s not surprising…aboard an expedition in Antarctica, you’d need a Rolling Stones concert or Madonna to come anywhere near the entertainment that is provided by the destination itself. In fact, the greatest entertainment is sharing the day’s experiences and wildlife sightings with your fellow guests.
For years, I’d always associated the word “expedition” with images of challenge and difficulty but now, after experiencing World Voyager and her maiden voyage to Antarctica, the word conjures different images: Comfort, beauty, luxury, fine dining…and a whole lot of champagne.
COMING SOON!: Part 4: Atlas Ocean Voyages’ World Voyager: Getting My Feet Wet: An Introduction to Antarctica Expedition
Photos credit Judi Cuervo
Cover photo World Voyager, credit Atlas Ocean Voyages