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This cruise ship has a submarine; here's what it's like to be 1,000 feet under the sea

Oct. 02, 2022
9 min read
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Editor's Note

TPG's Ashley Kosciolek was hosted by Seabourn Cruises for an Arctic expedition sailing on Seabourn Venture. The opinions expressed below are entirely hers and weren't subject to review by the line.

"A spot just opened up on the submarine for this morning's dive," Seabourn Venture's expedition coordinator, Chris, announced when I answered my cabin phone on Seabourn Cruises' Seabourn Venture. "Can you be here in 5 minutes?" I had just woken up, but the news jolted me like a double espresso. I don't think I've ever gotten dressed so quickly in my life.

Venture, the first expedition ship for the luxury cruise line, is outfitted with two submarines, and I was on my way to board one of them for a 30-minute dive to the bottom of the ocean in the frigid Arctic waters of Greenland.

ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Each submersible is capable of diving nearly 1,000 feet below the surface, holds six passengers (plus a pilot) and offers nearly 360-degree vistas through giant glass domes that look like massive bubbles or, perhaps, the bulging eyes of a fish.

I was a bit nervous when I found out we had to climb onto the sub via Zodiacs — small, inflatable open-air boats — but the process turned out to be relatively painless and well worth the effort. So, what, exactly, is the submersible experience all about? Here's all you need to know.

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My experience

ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

After I got the phone call that a spot had opened up, I headed downstairs to the meeting area, not totally sure what to expect. I had thrown on several layers, even though I assumed the submersible would be temperature controlled (and it was). However, I hadn't realized we would have to take a Zodiac to get there. As I stepped off the ship and onto the smaller boat, I silently thanked the universe that I had worn a hat, gloves and wool socks.

A trip of less than 10 minutes brought us to the sub, which was bobbing nearby.

"Please take off your parkas and leave them in this dry bag," our Zodiac driver instructed us as she tied the boat to the sub. The scene became a flurry of swishing neon orange as everyone began shedding their outer layers — waterproof Helly Hansen jackets provided to all passengers at the start of the cruise. Bright colors reflect on the glass and make it more difficult to see, our driver explained. Our hiking boots came off next in an effort to keep the sub's pristine interior impeccably clean.

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ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Then the crew helped us step onto the sub's roof, one at a time. We sat down, turned around and slowly lowered ourselves down inside the hatch with the help of a tiny, collapsible ladder.

Once inside, we could sit on either side of the sub; each had three comfortable leather seats that swivel so you can see out the large windows. When the process was complete, the pilot boarded, and we settled into our cozy new surroundings for our trip.

ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

To kick off the dive, the pilot gave his initial readings to a crew positioned on a second Zodiac on the surface. That same team checks in every 15 minutes (generally once per dive) to take additional readings and make sure contact with the pilot is maintained. The hatch was sealed, and down we went, expressing the air from the sub's air canisters to help us sink.

Within a few minutes, we gently touched down on the bottom, against one side of a rock face. The view was cloudy most of the way, thanks to silt from nearby glacier runoff, but as we reached the bottom, the view was clear.

ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

The pilot turned on lights to help us see better, and immediately we were surrounded by tons of tiny, krill-like creatures that the pilot said are simply called Arctic fish. Drawn to the light, they were joined by small, bioluminescent jellyfish. The only other life I spotted were a few tiny starfish and some pretty pink anemones — but for me, just being there was enough of a treat to justify the cost and the effort.

ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

After about 20 minutes of viewing from the same spot, the pilot slowly returned us to the top, the water around us progressively turning lighter and lighter shades of sea foam green. When we surfaced, the pilot had the sub blow bubbles so the Zodiac team could spot us for passenger extraction and pickup. When the Zodiac arrived and tied up alongside, the pilot opened the hatch, warning us that our ears might pop a little (which they did).

We climbed back up the ladder, one at a time, in our sock-clad feet, and eagerly grabbed our jackets and shoes for the return trip to the ship.

How much does it cost to ride in the Seabourn Venture submarine?

Submarine ride prices fluctuate by demand and itinerary, but the cost to book for a single person on my sailing was $899 — nearly $30 a minute. Given how exclusive the experience is, and that a submarine ride is a bucket-list activity, many passengers were willing to fork over the dough.

Which cruise ships have submarines?

ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Seabourn Venture isn't the first expedition vessel to carry submarines. Crystal Cruises pioneered the concept when it introduced its luxury yacht Crystal Esprit in 2015. Since then, three other lines have followed suit, including Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours with its Scenic Eclipse and Scenic Eclipse II expedition vessels, Viking Ocean Cruises with expedition ships Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, and Seabourn Cruises with its Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit expedition vessels.

Should I make cruise ship submarine reservations in advance?

@thepointsguy You can book a submarine dive as part of your luxury cruise experience 🤯 #cruise #submarine #dive ♬ Up and Away (Vocalese) - GHOSTLAND


Absolutely. If a sub dive is something you're interested in, make reservations in advance if you can. While not every line allows advance bookings for the subs, the ones that do often extend discounts for those who plan ahead.

Since each sub holds such a small number of passengers, there's extremely limited capacity available. Dives are often canceled if weather conditions aren't near perfect, meaning even fewer people will have a chance to go. Plus, with all the moving parts on each submarine, there's a chance one won't be functional (as was the case on my cruise), so the number of people who get a ride could be even fewer.

Fun facts about the submersibles

ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY
  • The submarines on Seabourn Venture cost $4 million each.
  • Their max speed is about 2 knots.
  • For propulsion, each is equipped with eight thrusters — six around the sides and two on the top. They're electric, powered by 260-volt batteries. Air is released from air canisters on the sub to help it sink; when it's time to resurface, the two top thrusters are used. Air canisters aren't refilled until the sub reaches the surface.
  • Each sub must be weighted down to precisely 720 kilograms (1,587 pounds). To accomplish this, each passenger is weighed before boarding, and additional weights are placed on board as needed.
  • Every 2 minutes, the pilot must push a "dead man's switch" to reset it. If he fails to do this, an alarm sounds, and the sub will automatically return to the surface within 9 minutes.
  • Tanks pump oxygen into the sub during dives, and carbon dioxide absorbents are placed inside to remove CO2 from the air.
  • The pilot has a small viewing window but drives mostly by using sonar, and he or she maneuvers the sub like a crab so there's less resistance in the water.
  • Pilots undergo about a month of extensive theory and hands-on training in Curacao in order to be certified.
  • The subs must be recertified at regular intervals, at which time key components are checked for proper safety and functionality.

Bottom line

ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Is a submarine dive on a cruise ship worth it? It's completely your call, but it's definitely an exclusive experience with a high price tag. Although it's a lot of fun, unless you're super into the technology aspect alone, it's likely a better value in a warmer destination like the Caribbean or Galapagos where there are larger, more colorful marine animals to see.

Also be prepared for cancellations, which make reservations for this high-demand activity even more coveted. Make your reservations well in advance if possible, which could score you a discount.

If you're someone who's claustrophobic or if you can't climb up and down a small ladder, this activity is one you'll want to skip.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023