A cruise ship helicopter has immense luxury value

Travel Weekly's Johanna Jainchill in front of the Scenic Eclipse's helicopter just after landing on the ship's stern.
Travel Weekly's Johanna Jainchill in front of the Scenic Eclipse's helicopter just after landing on the ship's stern. Photo Credit: Peter Knego

Travel Weekly's Johanna Jainchill experienced Scenic's first luxury oceangoing ship, the Scenic Eclipse.

It would be hard to spend more than a few days on the Scenic Eclipse and not feel the pull of the sleek, shiny black helicopter sitting proudly on its stern. 

Along with the sub, it's part of what enables passengers to "live like a billionaire," according to the vision of founder Glen Moroney, who was inspired by seeing a helicopter on the late Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen's yacht while it was docked in Sydney.  

The Eclipse may not be the only expedition cruise ship with a chopper on its decks for long, but it is the only one right now, and being first has some cachet. 

And Scenic did not go cheap when choosing its choppers. It has two brand-new Airbus H130s, among the quietest helicopters available, meaning less noise pollution for people and wildlife below. A system to reduce vibration inside the cabin means a smoother, more comfortable ride. Scenic hired experienced pilots, including Bradley Brummett, a former U.S. military pilot who has flown through war zones. This was comforting to passengers taking off and landing on a very windy day in Martha's Vineyard, when a boat excursion was canceled due to the rocky seas. 

Scenic invited me on a 20-minute morning flyover of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, on a day with only a slight breeze and beautiful blue skies. Our pilot, Chad, was also very experienced, having flown medical evacuation flights in Kentucky prior to this job. 

Taking off and landing on a cruise ship is a very cool experience, one that quite a few guests come out to watch. I was surprised at how smooth the ride was, at least compared with the last helicopter I was on, noting almost no vibration. Bose noise canceling headsets allowed passengers and the pilot to communicate clearly. The leather seats were comfortable and there was plenty of legroom. 

We did a few loops around the ship and the charming, colorful, harborside town of Lunenburg and over a lovely archipelago off the Nova Scotia coast. 

A bird's eye view of the Scenic Eclipse from the ship's helicopter in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill

The captain asked our group of five what we most wanted to see, and he tailored the flight accordingly. Our group of mostly journalists wanted as many ship angles as possible. 

Scenic's helicopter rides aren't cheap. The 20-minute Old Town Lunenburg Flight costs $395 per person, while a 40-minute ride over Peggy's Cove costs $775. 

The price is on par with some outside helicopter tour companies I looked up, but the convenience of taking off the from the ship adds serious value. No tender, no transfer, no filling out lots of forms. I simply got up from where I was having breakfast, walked down one flight to the Scenic Lounge, watched a short safety video, and we were on our way. 

Of course, when Moroney envisioned his passengers on the helicopter, it wasn't likely on flyovers of small Canadian towns, as lovely as it was. These choppers are meant to fly guests over icebergs, glaciers and fjords, and to go deeper into polar zones in Antarctica and the Arctic than cruise passengers can normally get. And that is what adds immeasurable value. In those places, there will be no comparable experience because it won't otherwise exist. 

Upscale travel is now often measured in the exclusivity of the experience. In that realm, a cruise ship with its own helicopter and submarine, offering guests the chance at exploration of areas they would otherwise never be able to go, is the ultimate luxury.

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