Most offbeat excursion ever? Cruise line plans to take passengers into the power plant at Chernobyl

Oct 5, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

One of the world’s newest cruise lines has revealed plans for what may be the most offbeat cruise ship excursion ever: A trip into the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Florida-based Atlas Ocean Voyages, which is scheduled to debut next year with a single ship, is planning to offer an three-day “Chernobyl experience” excursion in Ukraine that will include a walk into safe areas of the power plant — the site of the worst nuclear accident in history.

It’ll also include a visit to Pripyat, the small abandoned city near the power plant that once housed power plant workers and their families.

For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s new cruise newsletter.

Tourgoers will spend one night within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a 1,000-square-mile area around the power plant that is now a restricted area due to radioactive contamination from the nuclear accident, which occurred in 1986.

The excursion will be offered during a 16-night Black Sea sailing that will include stops in Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia and Russia. The trip will kick off July 28, 2021, on the line’s soon-to-debut, 196-passenger World Navigator.

“This was something unique we wanted to do,” Atlas Ocean Voyages President Alberto Aliberti said Monday during a virtual press event to unveil more details about the line. “They are just starting tourism at a small level.”

Indeed, tourism to the Chernobyl disaster site has begun in recent years on a very limited basis, as I saw during a visit to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in 2019. Small tour companies based in Kiev, Ukraine, about two hours away, are taking small groups of about a dozen tourists at a time into the area for day tours.

Related: How to book a cruise with points and miles

Chernobyl nuclear disaster site
Tourists can get close to the giant Safe Confinement covering that tops the melted-down Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. (Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)

A handful of visitors also can spend the night in the Chernobyl Exclusive Zone at two small guest houses in the town of Chernobyl, which also is mostly abandoned.

While the area around the power plant complex still is contaminated with radiation, it’s considered safe to visit for short periods. Workers involved in the ongoing decontamination of the reactor that melted down during the accident continue to enter the area regularly, though they only can remain in the area for a limited number of days per year.

The Chernobyl tours that Atlas Ocean Voyages is planning will be unusual in that they will include a visit to an interior area of the nuclear reactor complex. Day tours from Kiev typically only include a stop to view the complex from outside of its main gate.

Related: Trump administration paves the way for a restart of cruising

Only one of four nuclear reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant melted down during the disaster, and it has since been sealed in a way that does not let new radiation escape.

The tours also will be unusual for their size, give the line’s ships will be able to hold 196 passengers. While that’s considered a very small number of passengers for a cruise ship, it’s still a lot of people to take into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which is only sparsely visited.

Chernobyl. (Photo by Francisco Goncalves/Getty Images)
An abandoned amusement park area in Pripyat, Ukraine, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. (Photo by Francisco Goncalves/Getty Images)

Aliberti said he traveled to Kiev and Chernobyl in 2019 to discuss the visits with authorities. No other cruise line has offered an overnight tour into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

“It wasn’t hard to negotiate the trip in (to the zone),” he said. “What is important was the size of the group. Because we’re a smaller ship, and because we carry fewer guests, we were able to break it up such that our guests will not overwhelm any area.”

The tour came up Monday during a discussion of the unusual excursions that Atlas Ocean Voyages is planning for its itineraries. Billed as a “luxe adventure” line, the brand has been designed to offer not just luxury but adventurous and unusual shore excursions, Atlas Ocean Voyages vice president of sales and trade partnerships Brandon Townsley said during the press event.

The Chernobyl experience will be part of a “max shore” line of unusual, mid-cruise overland adventures that will be a highlight of the brand. Offered on some longer sailings, the excursions will last from three to six days and bring such activities as hot-air ballooning over Turkey’s Pamukkale’s mineral pools and petrified forest; and glamping under the stars at Jordan’s Petra ruins. They’ll be offered at no extra charge to passengers.

The press event was held on the first day of a virtual version of the annual Seatrade Cruise Global convention — the world’s biggest gathering of people involved in the cruise industry. It usually happens in Miami in April and draws about 13,000 people.

Aliberti said the line had approached arranging the Chernobyl tour with sensitivity, given what occurred at the site.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

“You have to keep in mind that it is an area of a recent human tragedy,” he said. “We have to go into it with (an) attitude of respecting what it is.”

Atlas Ocean Voyages announced earlier this year that it would add four more ships to its fleet by the end of 2023.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image courtesy of Atlas Ocean Voyages

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.