Marian Herz review 7 Jul 2013
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?
Seeing the ribbon seals, the northern right whale and the spoonbill sandpiper.
2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?
Be prepared for lots of walking on the tundra. Also understand that the ship does not have stabilizers so even a mild swell rocks the ship. Bring a good layering system as temperatures and ice conditions can vary greatly.
3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
Supported conservation and the spoonbill sandpiper project. I suppose that we provided some income for the people in the towns in which we stopped. Not sure that we reduced environmental impacts.
4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?
It was OK but not the best I've been on. The company did a good job on the off-ship activities and landings. On ship there's room for improvement. There were language issues on the first part of the trip. The company indicated that English was the language on board the ship, but due to a large group of French speakers and another group of Russian speakers, very few lectures were in English. I feel that I missed 2/3 of the information. The Russian interpreter lacked the skills necessary to do a good job. I was also concerned that the company allowed the group to climb up and walk through a nesting colony of Puffins, auklets and gulls. This was totally wrong. Communication from the expedition leader on the first trip could have been better. The expedition leader on the second part of the trip was much better in the communication area and also seemed more concerned about disturbing wildlife. I also felt that there was low tolerance for people who couldn't walk fast. Everyone has different physical capabilities and the expedition team should be tolerant of all levels. Those of us who were slower walkers felt marginalized and felt that our participation in the search for the sandpiper was not valued.
Read the operator's response here:
Firstly, I would like to thank you very much for taking the time to post your review after traveling with us in the Russian Far East in the Sea of Okhotsk and exploring the coastline of Kamchatka. It is great to read that overall you rated the voyage as being ‘very enjoyable’. The wildlife in this part of the world is unlike anywhere else in the world and it sounds as though the wildlife that we encountered was a real highlight for you. To be able to zodiac cruise as the spectacular Ribbon Seals lazed on the ice, being fortunate enough to see a critically endangered Spoonbilled Sandpiper at the Chukotkan breeding site, and encountering the Pacific Northern Right Whale would have been a real thrill, I am sure. To be one of the few people in the world to see the world’s rarest whale, and to get such good views of it, was a definite highlight for all onboard, including for our marine mammal specialist Adam Walleyn.
We appreciate your advice for other travelers. Our voyages are designed for active expeditioners, the voyage that you were on with its focus on assisting the Birdlife International and Birds Russia team looking for new breeding ground of the Spoonbilled Sandpiper potentially had more walking involved than our other voyages. We do find that often passengers enjoy the opportunity to explore the open tundra and stretch their legs, not to mention it is an opportunity to burn off some of the tasty meals consumed onboard. We do have options for slower walkers, however these may not have been available on all landings particularly those involving the large job of searching for new breeding sites by foot. We do need to stress that everyone’s contributions are extremely valued by us, Birdlife International and the Birds Russia team. In regards to swell, seasickness can always be a factor in traveling on an expedition vessel, and we strongly recommend passengers who may be worried about this bring seasickness medication as a precaution. You’re correct that the layering system is key in packing for expeditions such as these, particularly if traveling through different habitats, such as from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy to Anadyr.
We have run voyages in the Far East of Russia since 2007. The majority of staff members either speak English as a first language or are fluent in English. Most of our passengers are fluent English speakers, although occasionally we do get groups of non-English speaking passengers traveling with their own guide, such as the French speaking passengers on your voyage, as well as Russian speakers. We also employed a local Russian university student as a translator for this voyage. We are finding that these voyages in the Far East are becoming more and more popular with local Russian tourists. As conservation advocates, this is extremely important to us as our company was established with the aim of creating wildlife ambassadors for some of the most remote and unknown parts of the world. It is important that we, as visitors to Russia, return back to our home countries with a keen interest in Russian conservation; however we all realise that it is those domestic tourists who hold the ability to have more power to influence conservation policies within the Russian Federation. Therefore, it is important to us that Russian passengers, as well as Russian students, such as the translator onboard the ship, are given the opportunity to see this part of their country that was for so long hidden away. Whilst this may cause some delays in regards to information being given in multiple languages, we think that the benefit to the region outweighs the inconvenience as conservation in Russia is severely underfunded, especially in the far East. Our assistance to Birds Russia with the Spoonbilled Sandpiper project, as well as our biennial conservation expeditions such as the Sea Otter Survey and the Commander Islands Marine Mammal expedition directly provide resources to local conservation bodies such as assistance in transportation, people power to assist with surveying, marketing assistance and more. Our marine specialists also keep track of marine mammals in the area on every voyage for the Russian Far East Marine Mammal Association. In regards to your comments regarding the nesting colony of birds. We are very concerned about any disturbance of any wildlife so I have had our senior expedition leader and owner of the company check your concerns with the staff involved on that expedition. Our ornithologist on board those voyages is extremely experienced, he feels there was no unacceptable disturbance of the birds or wildlife during that expedition. But please if you find yourself in that situation again where you are unhappy or concerned about the actions of any of the staff, please raise your concerns with the staff on the ship so it can be discussed there and then rather than after the event.
Once again, thank you for your valuable feedback. We are of course happy to discuss any elements of your review in greater detail, please feel free to contact our Sales Manager, Cassia Jackson at our office.