Expert Aboard: Sylvia Earle & Greg Mortimer Ship Review

January 19, 2021 • Todd Smith

AdventureSmith Founder and President Todd Smith provides this Aurora Expeditions Greg Mortimer ship review after traveling on an Antarctica cruise aboard Greg Mortimer. This Greg Mortimer review also applies to the nearly identical sister ship Sylvia Earle. Use the AdventureSmith team’s Antarctica cruise reviews and worldwide small ship cruise reviews to inform, inspire and book your next trip aboard a small cruise ship.

First Impressions—Is This Real?

One’s first impression approaching the Greg Mortimer or Sylvia Earle on the dock is one of shock and disbelief. These next-generation expedition ships defy description with their unique architecture and upside-down bow (X-BOW®) curving into the sea. Ships are supposed to repel coming waves, not welcome them.

X-BOW® Stability

The Greg Mortimer is the first passenger vessel to use patented X-BOW® technology. With my Antarctica cruises experience, crossing the Drake Passage several times aboard many ships, I can say that the X-BOW® design does provide a smoother ride. The three motions on a ship that produce queasiness are pitch, roll and yaw. Pitch, the up/down motion as the bow rides over waves, is greatly reduced aboard these ships. In larger seas the accompanying bang, which reverberates throughout the ship when the bow hits the water, is eliminated completely. Roll is the side-to-side motion and is reduced by stabilizers, but ultimately similar to traditional expedition ships. Yaw is a combination of both pitch and roll and is reduced compared to other vessels.

Staterooms, Balconies & How to Choose

The staterooms throughout these ships are remarkably uniform, varying only slightly in size and amenities. They are upscale and well-appointed without being unnecessarily luxurious. You do not need to upgrade significantly to get a top-quality stateroom. I recommend a room with a balcony because of their superior location on higher decks, the large ceiling-to-floor glass doors and of course the balcony itself (which I was unexpectedly enjoyed many times each day).

Standard staterooms, without balconies are all located on lower decks near the waterline. As such they have portholes instead of view windows and doors. Balcony staterooms are interspersed among the upper decks so whichever category you choose, you can have a choice of deck. Choose a balcony stateroom on Deck 4 for less movement, or Deck 6 for better views and closer access to the lounges and outdoor observation decks.    

All stateroom categories have bright private bathrooms with heated floors which kill the chill on bare feet; dry towels, rain gear and in my case, ski skins wet from backcountry exploration; and eliminate the persistent moisture that can be troublesome aboard small ships.

Notable Social Areas

The Greg Mortimer and Sylvia Earle both offer public spaces thoughtfully designed from decades of polar cruising experience. Notable to me is the lecture theater and lounge. The room’s high ceilings, ambient light and bright windows create an airy open atmosphere often missing in lecture halls. A combined lecture hall and lounge will typically shortchange both but in this case they are seamlessly integrated into a relaxing multipurpose space.

Also notable: the bar on Deck 7, after dinner, can start hopping with late night partyers enjoying raucous good times, without disturbing others seeking a quiet evening. The well-stocked gym is widely used but never crowded. I especially appreciated the huge view window in the wellness center sauna next-door, as well as Deck 8’s two incredible hot tub Jacuzzis with the most amazing views imaginable.

Well-Designed Mudroom

As an expedition cruising nerd, I judge the quality of a ship by its mudroom. This is the area where guests prepare for and embark/disembark off-vessel activities. Once an afterthought, mudrooms are now designed with as much planning as any other aspect of the ship. The mudroom aboard Greg Mortimer and Sylvia Earle is exceptional.

As backcountry skiers we had an exorbitant amount of gear; large lockers provided plenty of room for muck boots (provided by the ship), hard-sided ski boots, helmets, ice axe, harness and clothing. The room was fully heated, which made it comfortable, but more importantly allowed gear to dry overnight. There are plenty of benches with space to gear up, a process aided by the staggered timing of departing groups.

Efficiency is important when loading 120+ guests into and out of Zodiacs. Four exterior doors from the mudroom make this process quick and easy. And a wide two-way stairway allows guests to enter and exit the room without crowding.

Unique Observation Decks & Wildlife Viewing

There are a variety of outside observation decks accessible from a variety of indoor spaces. One drawback of a ship with balcony staterooms on the lower decks is that observation decks are located higher on the ship. As such, the first outside observation area is Deck 7 which is some 40+ feet above waterline.

In this Deck 7 viewing area, twin wings protrude beyond the hull, for use by the captain and guests alike, providing great views and photography of the ship itself. Occasionally this deck is roped off so the captain can see forward, limiting guests’ range. This was the only time I found a deck crowded as guests squeezed together at the rope line to view and photograph wildlife or scenery.

The most unique observation area is comprised of large hydraulic platforms that are lowered near the inverted bow, providing incredible views and photography close to the waterline. The view of the X-BOW®, still seemingly unreal, made for unique photos and videos as the ship pushed through ice. This secret deck was accessed through a hidden door behind the lectern and became an instant favorite place to hang while underway.

Exceptional Expedition Leaders

The large crew of up to 20 expedition leaders and naturalists are exceptional and make these ships stand out. As a former expedition leader myself, I appreciated the variety of expertise, depth of knowledge and personable demeanor of the entire crew. The expedition leaders aboard my cruise specialized in geology, glaciology, ornithology, cetaceans, photography and more. Many had experience living and working as scientists in polar regions. More appealing than their scientific knowledge was their ability to synthesize information, effectively present complex ideas and apply them to our daily experiences.

Many of the expedition leaders specialized in a particular activity such as kayaking, skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing, scuba diving or stand-up paddleboarding. Their experience was impressive; one ski guide had climbed the seven summits (highest mountains on each of the seven continents). Their dedication to safety was unparalleled and provided a foundation for us to relax and enjoy the experience while exploring remote backcountry locations.

Incomparable & Dedicated Activities

The variety and activity level of off-vessel excursions distinguishes Greg Mortimer and Sylvia Earle from other expedition ships. Most guests will be wholly satisfied with the standard included activities: shore walks and Zodiac excursions. The quality of guides make these forays into the wilderness exceptional.  

Travelers looking for added activity and adventure will love these ships. They offer a menu of optional adventures that are legit including camping, sea kayaking, snowshoeing, ski and snowboard touring, scuba diving, snorkeling, trekking, ice climbing, rock climbing and stand-up paddleboarding. Cruises to South Georgia Island offer a re-creation of Sir Earnest Shackleton’s harrowing crossing, either on skis or by foot trek.

These unique ways to experience the White Continent are more than just a sample or tryout to say that you did it. They are dedicated to the experience with full days of exploration and an integral focus of your entire voyage. Guests participating in added activities are the first ashore and last to return. I participated in the ski touring and we skied 6 consecutive days in 8 different locations. Kayakers ventured far from the ship on extended wilderness paddles. Snowshoers sometimes wore harnesses and ropes to access glaciated terrain far above the standard shore walks. Activity space is limited so book early and you will not regret it.

Greg Mortimer Ship Review Takeaways

Aurora Expeditions has hit the nail on the head with the design and execution of Greg Mortimer and Sylvia Earle. Years of polar expedition experience are translated into comfortable, modern and efficient vessels that I recommend without hesitation. While any traveler will appreciate these ships, they are especially appealing to travelers seeking to actively explore away from the ship. Combine your sense of adventure and curiosity with upscale accommodations and a stable passage for the ultimate expedition cruise.

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  • Jane Appell says:

    We agree wholeheartedly with this review. We had an exceptional experience, from the activities to the positive spirit and expertise of all staff to excellent food. Loved the international composition of the guests and the crew. We cannot speak highly enough about our experience on the Sylvia Earle!

    Jane and Steven, Lincoln, MA

    • AdventureSmith Explorations says:

      Hi Jane and Steven,
      We’re thrilled to hear that you had a wonderful experience aboard the Sylvia Earle – thanks for sharing! Where did you go? And where to next? Please reach out if we can help get you back on board for your next adventure.

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