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Crystal Serenity’s Captain Birger Vorland reveals how he broke a world record, his favorite port on the 2025 World Cruise – and the most important rule of being a captain.

Written by

Emma Love

Emma Love

Published on 05/14/2024

Captain Birger Vorland Crystal
At the helm: Captain Birger Vorland famously navigated the notorious Northwest Passage in 2016

Meet the man who was at the helm of the now-legendary 2016 Northwest Passage crossing. Long before the boom in expedition ships, Captain Birger Vorland successfully navigated Crystal Serenity through the notoriously ice-choked, often-inaccessible sea route through the Arctic – earning the world record for the largest luxury cruise ship and the greatest number of people to sail the waterway.

The voyage, which was repeated in 2017, was four years in the planning and involved a support icebreaker vessel, special training, and ice radar. A captain for almost 25 years, he has led countless epic journeys.

“The icebreaker ship had a heli-deck so we could land two helicopters next to each other for sightseeing and to scout out the ice. We had 18 Zodiacs, a RIB boat, and all the survival gear. The trip sold out within 48 hours. The excitement among the guests was unique.

“Every World Cruise is memorable, too, especially our 2025 itinerary. It includes the island of Saint Helena, in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean between Brazil and Africa, which is a really exciting place – you only have a fifty-fifty chance of making it in because of the swell. That’s why Napoleon was exiled there, he couldn’t get away.

“Growing up on the small Norwegian island of Bomlo, south of Bergen, a maritime career was always on the cards. In those days, everyone was at sea. All my friends were fishermen, but I knew that wasn’t for me. My dad was a captain of cargo ships, so I decided to do that, starting as an able seaman when I was 19.

“In 1983, I swapped cargo ships for cruise ships – but I hated the first month. The cargo ship had 25 people, the cruise ship had 350 crew; I would breathe a sigh of relief when I managed to find my way back to my cabin at the end of the day. When I was promoted to quartermaster and went on the navigation bridge, everything changed for the better.

“After nautical college I worked my way up through the ranks at Cunard. In 2002, Crystal Cruises approached me. Initially, I was Captain of the former Crystal ship Crystal Harmony, then I had a spell working on land, including in Dubai with the Royal Navy when the Somali pirates were at their peak. But I missed being at sea, so I returned as Captain of Crystal Serenity in 2012.

“It’s a lifestyle choice. I’m on call 24/7 and must make important decisions. But I enjoy being with people and working with all the crew members. This team is special; that's not something that happens in one or two years, it takes decades to create this kind of magic.

“The most important rule of being a captain is to be completely certain of your own ability. If you are the master, you need to be 100% confident about taking the ship into port. It’s no good thinking: ‘My old captain did it, so it will be fine.’ Unless you yourself are sure, don’t do it. My number-one job is to make sure that everyone is safe and secure in everything that we do.”

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