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Edinburgh’s imposing profile of black rock hills and rugged medieval fortifications stands in stark contrast to its cultured, quirky, and playful spirit. Why not add extra time to delve deeper into the U.K.’s second-most popular destination after London? Revisit Scotland’s dramatic history at Edinburgh Castle. Wander the tangle of medieval Old Town, and the neoclassical district of New Town, which together form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dart into the quaint shops, inviting pubs, and fascinating museums that line the Royal Mile. A highlight will be your included excursion to the fabled fairways of St. Andrew’s, the home of golf. Our perfect mix of included touring and leisure time allows you to discover the best Edinburgh has to offer.
Depart home and fly overnight to Edinburgh
Your expedition begins! Today you’ll fly overnight from the U.S. to Edinburgh, Scotland.
Land in Edinburgh
Welcome to Scotland! If you purchased your airfare from Vantage, upon arrival a Vantage representative will meet you and arrange transfer to your centrally located hotel. Settle in and relax before joining your fellow travelers for a Welcome Reception and Dinner this evening.
An immersive "Address to the Haggis" before dinner honors centuries-old culinary traditions, featuring musical entertainment from a traditional bagpiper.
Discover Edinburgh, and come aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia
The unforgettable city of Edinburgh unfolds before you on a half-day city tour. Highlights of the Old Town include Edinburgh Castle, set high above the city on Castle Rock, and St. Margaret’s Chapel. Built around 1130, it is the oldest surviving building in town. Fast-forward to 18th-century as you explore the New Town, with its elegant neoclassical and Georgian architecture. Both districts are together listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip set sail to visit their far-flung dominion, they did it on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. You'll come aboard to inspect this elegant vessel, which often hosted a retinue of more than 45 guests. It still features the furnishings and décor favored by the Queen when the ship was launched in 1953.
The balance of your day is free to explore Edinburgh on your own — pop into some local pubs for whisky sampling, or head to the Leith neighborhood. Here, you'll find a haven for music lovers and theater-goers, as well as trendy bars and restaurants.
Wind through the Scottish Highlands to Invergordon, embarking the new Ocean Explorer
After breakfast you’ll check out of your hotel and enjoy a scenic transfer to Invergordon through the Scottish Highlands. This land of high mountain valleys, rushing trout streams, sparkling lochs, and sheep-dotted pastures was once the stronghold of Gaelic-speaking Scottish clans. Following the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries, small farmers were largely driven from the land, so today this remote region is one of the least-populated areas in Europe.
Our route takes us through wildly scenic Cairngorms National Park, the largest in the U.K. We’ll stop for an included lunch in the town of Pitlochry, which blossomed as a tourist destination after Queen Victoria visited in 1842. Soon thereafter you’ll arrive in Invergordon and come aboard your ship, the brand-new Ocean Explorer. Get settled in to your room, then feel free to explore the ship, stopping by the Concierge desk to say hello or even make a spa appointment. Later this afternoon, there will be an informative port talk later; after, gather with your fellow travelers for a Captain’s Welcome Dinner.
Delve into the World War II heritage of Kirkwall in the Orkneys
Rise and shine in beautiful Kirkwall, the capital of Scotland’s northern Orkney Islands. Kirkwall was mentioned in a Norse saga from 1046, but the islands were inhabited long before that, as is evident in the island’s various Neolithic sites.
Your touring today reveals what is one of the best-preserved ancient Norse towns in Scotland. Kirkwall sits on a calm harbor and is laced with mysterious wynds (lanes) that lead to the main edifice, the imposing St. Magnus Cathedral. It is named for a local noble son who refused to participate in the Viking’s violent raids, and was martyred for it. St. Magnus stands in sharp contrast to the charmingly quaint Italian Chapel at Lamb Holm. This fanciful white stucco church was built during WWII by Italian POWs, who wanted a place to worship. They had been sent to the Orkneys to help construct the causeways (called the Churchill Barriers) that served as defensive links between the islands. Today, they are still vital roads. You’ll see both of these landmarks during your tour.
After lunch on board, enjoy leisure time on the ship or continue to explore Kirkwall at your leisure. Perhaps tour one of the local gin or whisky distilleries, or visit the town’s many craft galleries and boutiques to find a handmade souvenir. After dinner on board this evening, head to the lounge for some local entertainment we've invited on the ship.
Your choice of tours in the Shetland Islands: Exploring Scalloway & Lerwick, or following in the footsteps of the Vikings
Floating between the Atlantic and the North Sea, the Shetlands are as far north as you can go and still be in Scotland. But at the same time, centuries of Norse rule make these spectacular green jewels a unique cultural hybrid. If you are on deck, perhaps a flock of northern fulmars or gannets will herald our arrival as our ship makes its way towards Mainland, the largest of the archipelago’s 16 inhabited islands. Your ship will drop anchor in Lerwick, the capital, and from here you will have two choices for exploration: An exploration of Scalloway and Lerwick, or a tour that brings you to important Viking sites.
Your first tour choice introduces Shetland’s past and present capitals on a Scalloway & Lerwick tour. The name Scalloway derives from an Old Norse phrase that means “bay with the large huts” and in this case, the huts were the ancient shelters built here for delegates to Tingwall, the parliament for Orkney and Shetland. In 1608, those huts were overshadowed by Scalloway Castle, the ruins of which still stand. You’ll visit the site, and also peek into the Scalloway Museum that chronicles important events, most notably the WWII era when Scalloway was the “depot” of the Shetland Bus. This clandestine operation ferried Norwegian refugees fleeing the Nazi occupation to safety in the Shetlands, and returned the boats to Norway with arms and munitions for the Resistance. You’ll also visit Clickimin Broch, a defensive Bronze Age round tower. Before returning to ship, enjoy a guided walk around Lerwick and stop at a local farm that breeds the island’s iconic, stout Shetland ponies.
Your second and more active tour choice invites you to explore “In Viking Footsteps.” You’ll start with a motorcoach ride across the stunning countryside to Old Scatness on the southern tip of the island. It was here in the 1970s that an airport expansion project revealed the heretofore unknown presence of an ancient mound that was inhabited for nearly 2,000 years since the Iron Age. It includes a broch (round tower) and a village that was occupied by Iron Age, Pictish, and Viking people. Many of the Pictish houses were reused by the Vikings, who left many soapstone artifacts behind. From here you’ll head to Sumburgh and visit Jarlshof, which was occupied from about 2500 BC to AD 1500. It features rectangular Viking longhouses, and a 16th-century, fortified manor house.
Back on board, enjoy the afternoon’s presentations by your expedition team and some leisure time. If conditions permit, perhaps this evening one of our expedition team members will host a stargazing session.
Exploring Europe's best kept secret: the Faroe Islands
If you’re an early riser, hit the deck as we approach the Faroe Islands, and perhaps you’ll spot some wildlife. The 18 Faroe Islands form an autonomous region within the Kingdom of Denmark. The islands’ main industry is fishing and the 50,000 or so inhabitants enjoy a high standard of living. Your ship will dock on the island of Streymoy in Tórshavn, which was founded in the 10th century and which many historians believe to be the oldest (albeit smallest) capital in Europe. The name means “Thor’s Harbor” and it’s fitting that the town be associated with the god of thunder, since the Faroes can be quite storm-tossed.
Your tour showcases the main attractions of Tórshavn, plus some of the surroundings. In Tinganes, the narrow neck of land that divides Tórshavn’s two harbors, you’ll see a cluster of modest, red wooden houses that was one of the oldest parliamentary gatherings in the world. Vikings would convene here for regular “Thing” meetings to resolve conflicts and establish laws. Contrast this with the contemporary Løgting or “Law Assembly” that serves as the Faroese Parliament. The office of the prime minister is also located here. At the National Museum of the Faroe Islands, you’ll see various displays celebrating the islands’ natural and cultural heritage. One of the most important is the Kikjubøstólarnirlso which are pew-ends from the ancient St. Olav’s church. Dating from the 12th century, these national treasures feature elaborate carvings depicting the apostles and other biblical lore.
After lunch, your afternoon is at leisure. You may choose to explore more of the Faroe Islands with a tour set up by your onboard Concierge, or embark on an independent exploration. Perhaps you’ll stroll the side streets and admire the pastel-colored houses with their turf roofs. Or maybe you’ll amble down Tórshavn’s main shopping street, Niels Finsens gøta, in search of some stylish Faroese knitwear.
Enjoy a little predinner entertainment as a local Faroese folk troupe comes aboard to serenade us.
Cruising the North Atlantic
A full day to relax on board your 5-star ship. Throughout the day, your expedition team will be conducting different presentations on topics relevant to your destinations, and you'll also have a moment to take advantage of your ship’s other amenities to refresh and restore yourself, perhaps visiting the sauna or enjoying a soothing massage in the spa.
Discover the Westmans from Heimaey Island, Iceland
After a day at sea, the remote Westman Islands come into view. The Vestmannaeyjar or Westman archipelago is a collection of 15 volcanic islands and about 30 rock pinnacles and skerries off Iceland’s southern coast. Most of the islands have sheer cliffs overlooking the sea, which are fertile habitats for all of Iceland's seabird species including guillemot, gannet, kittiwake, Iceland gulls, and the iconic puffin (which is the symbol of the Vestmannaeyjar.) It is also a good place to spot whales, including orca or killer whales. If weather and sea conditions allow, we will pull into Heimaey, the largest of the Westman islands, and enjoy a full day of discovery.
Bear in mind as you travel by coach across the lava fields of Heimaey that this wonderland is still being formed by volcanic action. You’ll see some of nature’s handiwork in the Herjolfsdalur Valley, whose name means “Valley of Magic”—a moniker that is attested to by the amphitheater-like slopes, rocky cliffs and massive seascapes. Continuing on to the scenic western part of the island, keep your eyes wide open in case we spot some of the remaining puffins, more than 8 million of which seasonally come to roost here each summer.
Why is Heimaey known as the “Pompeii of the North?” You’ll find out at the Volcanic Center and Eldheimar Museum, which chronicles the effects of the 1973 Eldfell volcano whose massive lava floes destroyed half the town. The museum is built around the remains of one of the homes. You’ll also learn about the recent arrival of Surtsey Island, which emerged form the ocean during a volcanic eruption in 1963, and continued to form for four years thereafter.
Explore Reykjavik and the Golden Circle including a horse show as inaugural feature
After exploring so many remote and rewarding destinations, today the Ocean Explorer arrives in Iceland’s vibrant, youthful capital, Reykjavik. This spotless, cosmopolitan hub is surrounded by a treasure-trove of fantastic geysers, mountains, and glaciers. You’ll see the best of it on today’s full-day adventure along the famous Golden Circle route.
Iceland is one of the most conservation-minded, green destinations on the planet, and today you will see the natural endowment that has inspired such concern. Did you ever think that tomatoes would grow in such a subarctic, oceanic environment? They do, as you’ll see when we visit a unique local tomato farm and greenhouse, where you'll savor a taste of "Iceland's best Bloody Mary." You'll then find out why the Icelandic horses are so friendly during a show as a special inaugural feature.
Our explorations continue in awe-inspiring Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the here in 930 AD that early Viking settlers held the first Althing, or parliament, hosting representatives from all over the island. The park is also renowned for its extraordinary landscapes, many of which formed the backdrop for scenes in the Game of Thrones fantasy television series. You’ll also stop to admire the spectacular Gullfoss Waterfall, and the hot springs of the Geysir geothermal field.
Iceland’s rich music scene runs the gamut from medieval folk songs to classical to avant-garde jazz to pop. Before dinner you’ll be treated to a sampling of the talent that keeps Reykjavík's toes tapping.
Journeying to the "Center of the Earth" in Snæfellsjökul and Stykkishólmur, Iceland
When Jules Verne wrote A Journey to the Center of the Earth, his protagonists entered the earth’s crust from the caldera of Snæfellsjökul, a 700,000-year-old, glacier-capped strato-volcano that towers above the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This region, which is often called “Iceland in Miniature” because of its diverse landscapes, will be the focus of today’s discoveries after your ship docks in the charming port of Stykkishólmur. Your expedition leaders will coordinate today’s activities, which are all dependent on the weather and local conditions.
You might travel to the base of the Snæfellsjökull glacier, where your expedition leaders will take you up to 4,600 feet on an unforgettable snowcat excursion. If the day is clear, you’ll enjoy fantastic views of the quaint village of Hellissandur and bird-rich Breiðafjörður Bay. Alternatively, you might enjoy a tour of Snaefellsnes Peninsula, which includes a drive through the area’s striking lava fields, black lava beaches, and the Londrangar Rock pinnacles, which are remnants of a massive volcanic crater. You will also stop by the charming fishing village of Arnarstapi, as well as the Shark Museum in Bjarnarhöfn.
A day at sea cruising the Denmark Strait to Greenland
Enjoy a day at sea as we sail towards the southeastern coast of Greenland, following in the wake of Eric the Red and other Vikings who migrated here from Iceland more than 1,000 years ago. Learn all about these larger-than-life characters during the onboard enrichment lectures offered by your expedition team. Other presentations might focus on Greenland’s wildlife, topography, Inuit peoples, and more. From the observation lounge, you can keep an eye out for the occasional iceberg or whale sighting.
Exploring Greenland's remote Kulusuk island
If you are an early bird you might wander up on deck as your ship cruises into the harbor of Kulusuk, ringed by brightly painted houses set against green hills, and dark mountains that rise above the iceberg-flecked blue water. Only about 250 permanent residents call Kulusuk home. The island was originally settled by the Paleo-Eskimo cultures. Next came the Thule people who are descendants of today’s Inuits. Some Danes ran aground here in 1909, built a church, and stayed. As a result, today Kulusuk blends European and Inuit cultures. Most people earn their livings hunting and fishing, and some are skilled tupilaq carvers. Tupilaq means “soul of the ancestor,” and these carved figurines are said to offer protection against evil. Perhaps you’ll pick one up as you explore the town.
Your expedition leaders will determine where and how our activities will take shape based on the weather and local conditions, and you will have options for how active you want to be. You might hike from the shore of Kulusuk to the top of the 984-foot-high hill known as Isikajia Mountain, for jaw-dropping views of the village, the icebergs, and the stunning fjords that chisel the coast. As you explore keep your eye out for sea birds. You might also be lucky enough to spot ravens, white-tailed eagles or even the occasional rare gyrfalcon.
Visit one of the most remote places on Earth: Isortoq, Greenland
Isortoq means “Foggy Sea,” and it sits less than 3 miles from the edge of the polar ice cap. Today you will set foot on pristine land that may just well be the most remote place you’ve ever been in your life (so far!)
Experience Inuit traditions in Greenland’s smallest village, where fewer than 100 or so residents eke out a life by hunting and fishing. In summertime, they are also sustained by boat shipments of fresh produce and other supplies, but for most of the rest of year, Isortoq is largely inaccessible — surrounded by pack ice and battered by the powerful polar winds called piteraqs. Based on local conditions, your expedition leaders will coordinate a visit to the settlement, where you can see observe the native Inuit lifestyle firsthand.
As you leave Isortoq today, you'll be rewarded with awesome views of Greenland's coastline.
Cruising the Prince Christian Sound along the coast of Greenland
Enjoy another relaxing day at sea, perhaps indulging in a spa treatment, enjoying cocktails in the lounge, and attending onboard workshops presented by your expedition crew. As you take in the scenery from the decks, you might notice that the icebergs have a uniquely blue color. That is because the icebergs in southern Greenland are older and denser with less air.
Discovering the beauty and nature of Nanortalik, Greenland
Nanortalik means “the place with polar bears,” and though you won’t find too many within the city limits, if you scan the ice packs as they float by you might just spot one of these white ursine wonders lounging about. Otherwise, the southernmost town in South Greenland has plenty to attract your eye, as Nanortalik is carved by deep fjords and surmounted by jagged peaks. Nanortalik is South Greenland’s adventure capital, attracting mountaineers, climbers, kayakers and extreme sport enthusiasts from around the world. After breakfast on board, your expedition leaders will coordinate some soft adventures for you to choose from, based on local conditions.
Cruising the Labrador Sea
Enjoy two days at sea as your ship makes its way towards Newfoundland and Labrador. This is the same route Leif Erikson would have taken when he set sail for the New World. Your expedition team might offer a lecture today on this historic voyage, or perhaps delve into the biodiversity that awaits you in Newfoundland and Labrador. You might also take in a movie, join a fitness class, do some dancing in the lounge, attend a cooking demonstration, or simply curl up with a book from the library.
Experience the beauty of Newfoundland in Gros Morne National Park
This morning we’ll make landfall on Woody Point, a scenic town on Bonne Bay on the island of Newfoundland (in Canada’s Newfoundland and Labrador province). You’ll enjoy a brief tour of Woody Point, which will be our jumping-off point for Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the effects of plate tectonics have created a breathtaking landscape. On our tour, you’ll walk on the Tablelands, which is the landform that gives the park its UNESCO designation. Parks Canada Interpreters will join us here to discuss this region’s unique geology. This is as close as you will ever get to the mantle of the earth or the surface of Mars.
Your expedition leaders will coordinate today’s additional explorations, which focus on the park’s northern reaches. As you explore, you’ll learn about the fishing culture of Newfoundland and Labrador. At the Western Brook Pond, you’ll be amazed to find an inland fjord that was carved by the sea some 15,000 years ago, then cut off by glaciation. When the ice melted, the fjord was filled with fresh water. Today this water has been assigned the highest purity rating available for natural bodies of water. You’ll also see the park’s namesake Gros Morne Mountain, which at 2,644 feet is the island’s second highest peak.
Cruising the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River
A final day at sea to unwind and enjoy the ship’s facilities. Your expedition leaders will conduct some final enrichment sessions, and you will certainly want to spend some time on deck to admire the beautiful passing scenery.
Find a touch of the Old World in Québec City
In 2018, the Travel + Leisure “World’s Best” poll ranked Québec City as Canada’s #1 city, citing the romantic old-world atmosphere, friendly residents, and great dining, among other things, See if you agree during today’s discoveries.
Discover Québec City (the Upper and Lower Town) through its history, architecture and culture. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and was one of New France’s most heavily fortified settlements. Today, its ramparts are the only remaining fortified city walls in North America north of Mexico. You will also visit the historic lower town, where Samuel de Champlain established the first French foothold in 1608. See also the imposing Château Frontenac, a luxury hotel that’s also a National Historic Site. Its grand fortress-tower design commands the skyline. You might also see the Terrasse Dufferin overlooking the St. Lawrence River, and City Hall, a former Jesuit college with lovely fountains and a garden.
Your tour concludes in time for you to enjoy lunch on board and some further exploration in town. Perhaps you’ll visit the Musée des Beaux Arts, explore the bohemian St-Jean-Baptiste district, or borrow one of the bikes on board to cycle along the St. Lawrence. This evening, dinner is back on board.
Disembarking the Ocean Explorer, and exploring Montreal, UNESCO-listed City of Design
This morning you'll wake up in captivating Montreal. Its historic architecture sits side by side striking modern buildings, and UNESCO has designated Montreal a “City of Design” (one of only a few in the world). You'll disembark the Ocean Explorer — we hope you enjoyed your expedition on Vantage's first oceangoing small ship expedition vessel! — before discovering Canada’s sophisticated arts capital.
Your city tour spotlights many of the city's gems, including historic Old Montreal, with its Place d’Armes, Old Port, City Hall and the bustling Bon Secours Market. Also featured are the Olympic Stadium, Saint Joseph's Oratory, and Notre Dame Basilica, one of the crown jewels in Québec's rich religious heritage. Then, a scenic drive takes us from Montreal’s downtown district to the top of Mont Royale for commanding views of the city and the St. Lawrence River. Afterward, visit one of the world's largest and most important Botanical Gardens in downtown Montreal. You’ll also admire the innovative modern architecture of the new Quartier International, and get an introduction to RÉSO, Montreal’s famous Underground City.
You’ll have a special lunch at one of Montreal’s celebrated restaurants, enjoying beer and wine with your meal. After, check into your hotel. The balance of the day is free for you to relax, explore, and dine as you wish.
Free day in Montreal
In Montreal, you'll have a vast array of places to shop and explore. Perhaps you’ll roam around the hip Mile End neighborhood, a warren of trendy galleries, shops, and cafés like the landmark St-Viateur bagel shop, whose doughy rings impressed even a die-hard New Yorker like Anthony Bourdain. In Rosemont, you’ll find wonderful Italian, Vietnamese and Latino enclaves, as well as the lively Jean Talon open-air market. This evening you’ll toast your adventure mates at a Farewell Dinner at your hotel.
After breakfast, you’ll transfer to the airport for your return flight home. Or, if you’ve selected our optional post-trip extension, continue to discover even more of Canada in Ottawa.
Canada’s capital, stunning Ottawa, is the nation’s most prosperous and educated city, a showcase of fine architecture, beautiful outdoor spaces, and a cultural hub that boasts seven national museums and a plethora of shops, restaurants, universities, theaters, and so much more. Set at the confluence of the Ottawa, Gatineau, and Rideau rivers, its setting is as gracious as its welcoming, easygoing vibe. The city invites outdoor exploration with its lovely parks and gardens, including the wildlife-rich Parc Omega, and the central Rideau Canal, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique design and cultural significance. Along the way to Ottawa, you’ll enjoy a delicious taste of Canada when you lunch at Fairmont Le Château Montebello for a true Québécois feast.
Please note: Ocean cruising is not the same experience as river cruising; as such, you may experience fluctuating tides and weather patterns that may involve some rocking of your vessel. Itineraries will include all activities as planned except in extreme cases that can’t be controlled by your shipboard crew.
Important: Day-by-day itineraries are preliminary and therefore subject to change. If changes occur while on tour, you will be notified by your Cruise Director or regional expert.