I joined MS Roald Amundsen's maiden voyage to Antarctica, sailing through the jigsaw of islands scattered off the tip of Chile into the fearsome Drake Passage and across to the White Continent, where the ship's clever design came into its own. Not only do two large banks of batteries cut fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent, but the engines are incredibly quiet. On one night, we inched through a frozen bay with such stealth that I could hear the chunks of ice gently knocking against one another.
The 530-passenger Roald Amundsen is on the large side for an expedition vessel but there's never a sense of feeling crowded, with plenty of diversions on board. Two 10-person hot tubs bubble away on the aft deck beside an infinity pool, while there's a well-equipped gym, as well as a small spa. The panoramic sauna has a whole wall of glass.
The ship has three restaurants. The bright, cheery Aune is for main dining, while suite guests dine in the elegant Lindstrøm, where exquisite menus reflect the area in which the ship is sailing; in our case, Patagonian lamb and fresh seafood from Chile. Each of these has two sittings, so ask in advance to secure the time you want. Fredheim, meanwhile, is a casual café for comfort dishes of spring rolls, burgers and booze-laced milkshakes.
The hygge-inspired interiors are all textures of granite, oak, birch and soft wools. The Explorer Lounge on Deck 10 is a haven of tranquillity, with dreamy, 180-degree views and a pianist in the afternoons and evenings to create the vibe of a smart cocktail lounge. The heart of the ship, though, is the Science Centre, a bustling space used for lectures, photography masterclasses, sessions using the Zeiss microscopes and generally chatting with the 19-strong expedition team. Here, we admired images of penguins zipping through the kelp forests, beamed live from the ship's Blueye underwater drone, an impressive gadget with zero environmental impact.
Cabins are attractive, with more than half featuring a deep balcony. Again, the décor is soothing and Scandi-inspired, with curved wood and soft, fleecy blankets. There are six levels of suites, with lovely touches including flickering vapour 'fireplaces'. The aft corner suites on Decks 7, 8 and 9 are especially covetable as they have a hot tub on the balcony.
In truth, I'd been a little concerned about the number of passengers; the ship takes 500 to Antarctica, the maximum allowed if you want to take people ashore. I needn't have worried; the system of putting everybody into boat groups and rotating the groups on each landing was efficient. If you go ashore last one day, it's no bad thing as Antarctica's sunsets are long and beautiful, the dazzling white of the mountains glowing salmon pink, and you'll be first the next day.
My days were packed, with short hikes, penguin viewing, snow shoeing, kayaking, ice cruising in the ship's powerful, custom-built rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) and joining the various science projects, from logging bird sightings to collecting phytoplankton.
So where does Roald Amundsen sit in the expedition spectrum? This isn't the ultra-luxury of Silversea or Crystal, with butlers and open bar, although from April, gratuities, some excursions and wine with meals will be included. What I enjoyed was the international passenger mix, the friendly informality, the very good food and, above all, the knowledge that you're visiting incredible places and leaving the smallest possible footprint.
Antarctica images © Andrea Klaussner