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Crystal Serenity’s much-loved Captain Birger Vorland on 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
Captain Birger Vorland. Credit Tom Griffiths

Most long-time Crystal voyagers will probably have heard 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.

“That’s when my career peaked,” he quips, recalling how the voyage, which was repeated in 2017, was four years in the planning and involved a support icebreaker vessel, special training, and ice radar.

“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,” he recounts. “We had 18 Zodiacs, a RIB boat, all the survival gear. The trip sold out within 48 hours. The excitement among the guests was unique.”

Vorland, who has been a captain for almost 25 years and with Crystal since 2002, has led countless epic journeys.

“Every World Cruise is memorable, especially our 2025 itinerary,” he says. “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 50-50 chance of making it in because of the swell. That’s why Napoleon was sent there in exile – 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 for Vorland.

“In those days, everyone was at sea. All my friends were fishermen, and I knew that wasn’t for me, but my dad was a captain of cargo ships, so I decided to do that. I started as an able seaman when I was 19,” says Vorland. In 1983, he swapped cargo ships for cruise ships – but it initially didn’t go well.

“I hated the first month. The cargo ship had 25 people, and everyone talked to each other. Then, I went on a cruise ship with 350 crew. I used to breathe a sigh of relief when I managed to find my way back to my cabin at the end of the day. When I got promoted to quartermaster and went on the navigation bridge, everything all changed.”

After nautical college Vorland worked his way up through the ranks at Cunard; in 2002, Crystal Cruises approached him, and the rest is history. Initially, he was Captain of the former Crystal ship Crystal Harmony; then, a spell working on land included, in 2008, going to Dubai to work with the Royal Navy when the Somali pirates were at their peak. But ultimately, he missed being at sea, so he returned as Captain of Crystal Serenity in 2012.

“My number-one job is to make sure that everyone is safe and secure in everything that we do.”

“It’s a lifestyle choice. I can not answer my phone, I’m on call 24/7, and I have to make really important decisions,” he says. “But I enjoy being with people and working with all these crew members. This team is special. It’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, he says, is to be completely certain of your own ability. “If you are the master, you need to be 100 percent confident in 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,” he says. My number-one job is to make sure that everyone is safe and secure in everything that we do.”

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