Standing at the bow of one of expedition cruising's hardiest ships as it crunches northward through a carpet of ice, Cecilia Donnelly is almost giggly with excitement. And who can blame her.
The steel-reinforced Fram has just arrived at the edge of the Arctic ice cap, and for the moment, at least, the 67-year-old retiree from Riverside, Calif., can lay claim to being one of the northernmost travelers in the world.
"This is fantastic!" Donnelly gushes as the 318-passenger Fram smashes into a car-length ice chunk, sending a shudder through the vessel. "In all my dreams, I never thought I would make it to the edge of the North Pole."
Fantastic, indeed. And an increasingly sought after experience. A growing number of adventurous travelers are signing up for expedition cruises to the realm of ice and polar bears at the top of the planet, prompting expedition cruise operators to offer an ever larger array of Arctic itineraries.