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
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.