M/S Quest Review

Tom Brown

12 Feb 2015

destination specialist tom brown has just returned from a trip to arctic canada

This was my first trip to the Arctic and the first thing that I remember once aboard the M/S Quest was thinking “this is really small!” I have travelled on the M/S Expedition and the M/S Explorer and have been on board various other expedition ships and although it is a mid-size vessel, the M/S Quest is significantly smaller than these ships. It is a former passenger ferry that used travel Greenland’s west coast and was completely refurbished as an expedition ship in 2005. Once aboard I had a wander around the ship to get myself familiarised. I’ll be honest, it didn’t take long. But as it turned out, this was the beauty of it.

I spy with my little eye

There are four decks that are used by the passengers. On Deck 5, the highest deck, there is an observation lounge. This is the place where most of the passengers, including me, spent most of their time during the trip. It is a great place to watch the dramatic scenery unfold as you are cruising from one landing site to another. With many eyes peering out into the distance, someone nearly always spotted something. We saw seals, whales, hundreds of sea birds and even the mighty polar bear from the lounge. Through some doors towards the bow there is an observation deck which is fantastic for photography but it is really important to wrap up warm.

The observation lounge is also the place where all lectures, briefings and debriefings are held. All briefings are done in English and Swedish and the lectures are often separately in both languages. There were probably a total of 5 educational lectures and they were extremely informative. Topics included the history of Svalbard and polar bears amongst others and if I was to be critical of one thing then I felt that there weren’t enough of these sessions. I raised this with the crew and they informed me that they used to do more but found it meant the programme was a little too busy. As the observation lounge is the only real place to sit and relax I can understand that some passengers might not want to have to listen to lectures the whole time. It is obviously a difficult balance.

Right place, right time

The next deck down is where the bridge is found. The M/S Quest has an open bridge policy and this is where you will find most of the expedition team in between landings. There are a number of crew binoculars and if they are not in use and you ask politely, they are more than happy that you use them. However, I would highly recommend that you take your own binoculars with you. Searching for polar bears seems to occupy the majority of their time and this is even more the case when in or close to the pack ice. The bears are little specks of dirty white on the horizon and it is amazing how they manage to spot them miles in the distance. Once spotted, the captain and crew make a beeline in that direction. The crew were absolutely fantastic in that respect, always trying to get us in the right place at the right time to see wildlife. One of the advantages of such a small ship is that a polar bear or a whale can be spotted behind the ship and within minute the captain has turned the ship and heading in the opposite direction. This is something that a lot of the bigger ships can’t do and in many respects you could potentially lose the opportunity of sightings. There is also a further observation deck on the bow of the ship in front of the bridge. This was the ideal place to see polar bears in the pack ice, but it is really important to get there early to get a good spot if you want the best photos.

Sleeping and eating

The passenger cabins are found on decks 3 and 4.The owner’s cabin and a double cabin superior are also found on deck 4. I was staying in a triple cabin which with 3 people can feel a little squashed but the truth is that the only time I spent in the cabin was getting ready to head out for an excursion and sleeping so it didn’t really bother me. The ship was completely full, however, I did get a chance for some sneaky peeks into the other cabins and they all looked very comfortable and as you could imagine, the higher the category of room, the greater amount of space available. There are 26 cabins that can take 53 passengers which range from triple cabins to the spacious Owner’s Cabin equipped with a large double bed.

Deck 2 is where the dining room is found. The food on board was exceptional. I’m sure I came back after the trip a few kilos heavier than when I got on board. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style with a whole bunch of hot and cold treats. The evening meal was a 3 course a la carte fixed menu with 2-3 choices for each course. Steak, chicken, fish and vegetarian options were often served and you could often ask for seconds which I often did, especially dessert. The waiters were excellent, and you were always summoned to dinner by the head waiter with a song!

Like all expedition cruises, a programme of excursions is offered. We enjoyed at least 2 excursions per day which varied between hike in search of wildlife, zodiac cruises and wildlife viewing from the ship. When on land we were always divided into short, medium and long walk groups in order to cater for all passengers. Zodiac cruises were split into language groups as there were English, French, Swedish and Dutch passengers on board.

Overall, I thought that the M/S Quest was an excellent ship. Although small, and not many communal areas, she was very comfortable and the fact that she is such a small ship means she has many advantages over the bigger ones. She can go to places the bigger vessels cannot, she can anchor closer to shore which means shorter zodiac rides, and the fact that there are only 53 passengers means that landings are much easier to manage. 

The M/S Quest would suit people who are looking for an intimate experience on a mid-size boat that is still within a group environment and represents excellent value. Highly recommended all round! 

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