Wildlife presenter and enthusiast Nigel Marven is presenting a brand new TV series Cruise Ship Adventures, on which he travels on an Azamara cruise ship to a variety of amazing cruise destinations to meet some equally amazing wildlife. I caught up with him to find out more about his experiences making the show.
Hi Nigel. Tell us a little about how you got involved with the show? I know Azamara likes to offer itineraries for the more adventurous cruiser, so that must have had something to do with it?
Yes, Azamara offers immersive experiences and someone I worked with at the Discovery Channel used to be an Azamara consultant and had suggested the idea of getting a TV presenter to give talks on the ships. They asked and I didn’t think I’d fancy cruising but it was fantastic – I enjoyed everything about it. The ship, the crew, the captains, the entertainers … they’re just as much stars of the show as the wildlife. I wanted to make the point of not doing the show on a dedicated expedition ship, but on one which visits ports that other cruise ships visit.
On the transatlantic crossing in the first episode, we stopped in the Azores and I wanted to see a rare bird, the Azores Bullfinch, which is highly endangered and can only be found there. Thirty passengers wanted to come with me to see it and that’s when I realised there was a real ground swell of love from cruisers about animals, who said they wanted to do more than just sunbathe and shop, which gave me the idea to do more in other ports of call and the idea for the show. The cruise ship life is fully integrated – it’s a cruise ship series with wildlife.
Many people will remember you for famously swimming with a Great White Shark without a cage and letting a giant spider crawl over your face. Did you perhaps take it a little easier in the series?
Ha! Ha! No I didn’t! There’s lots of gung-ho adventure but this time I get other people involved too.
What’s your favourite animal that you met while making the show?
The most memorable was a sperm whale that I met underwater in Dominica, something which you can do yourself as a very special cruise excursion if you get permission to snorkel with sperm whales. I did this and had a 10 metre sperm whale with a head that was big enough to hold a car coming straight towards me! It had to move its tail flipper to avoid hitting me. Unless you see a whale from under the water, you don’t realise their size, power and majesty.
Buenos Aires to Antarctica sounds like quite an adventure. What particularly stands out for you about that itinerary?
Cruising through the icebergs is a truly extraordinary experience and is a great way to get a taste for Antarctica. One place we got up close and personal with the animals was in the Falklands, when we met penguins and I gave a talk beforehand to let passengers know what to look out for. We even took the Azamara ship’s band to play a concert for a gaggle of baby penguins, which is an amazing sequence – the band in tuxedos playing a performance for Gentoo penguins!
The Caribbean is one of the most popular cruise destinations but it’s probably safe to say you didn’t spend too much time just relaxing on the beach?
No we didn’t, but that’s why we chose it for the first episode, because it’s such a popular cruise destination and we wanted to scratch beneath the surface. That’s where we did the sperm whale dive but there’s also lots of amazing birds, including hummingbirds, in the Caribbean, which are restricted to certain Caribbean islands. We show everyone sunbathing, then say how I’m reading up on birds while everyone is relaxing! You may think I’m a geek but I’m in good company! The respected Birds of the West Indies is by James Bond, and Ian Fleming, who was an avid bird watcher, named his famous character after the author! We also meet leatherback turtles in the US Virgin Islands which is something I’ve never done before – lying next to a two-metre leatherback turtle as she lays her eggs was extraordinary.
Azamara captains and crew are certainly not short of good destination knowledge but do you think you’ve given them a little more to talk about the next time they’re at sea?
Yes I think so. Captain Carl of the Azamara Quest came alligator wrestling with me in the first episode! Also, in the Indian episode we go to Chania, and Captain Jose and myself are escorted by a snake-hunting tribe to go cobra hunting. I’ve never seen such undiluted joy on someone’s face than when Captain Jose touches a cobra – I had the bitey end, he had the back end – it was truly amazing. Cruisers will be familiar with the ‘walk of shame’, when someone arrives back at the ship late, well Captain Jose enjoyed it so much he said “I don’t mind if I’m late”, so he was the one doing the walk of shame that day – with all the passengers watching. It’s not just the crew though. I took an Azamara magician on to Neckar Island to meet lizards and a comedian to see albatrosses.
Cruises are a good way to get a taste of different countries and cultures in one holiday, so are they a good way to get to know lots of different wildlife too?
The series certainly gives some pointers about how you can get to see wildlife on a cruise. In one of the episodes we stop in Sri Lanka and I realised that if you plan your day with Azamara properly, you can see blue whales in the morning, then in the afternoon, go inland and see Asian Elephants. You have got time to see wildlife if you plan properly. You need a ship like an Azamara one, where there are not too many people on-board and it’s staying in port for longer hours, or overnight.
You’re a panda ambassador and active conservationist, while Azamara has a history of ocean conservation through its Save the Waves programme. How important do you think it is for companies to take responsibility for the world they operate in?
It’s very important. Obviously that was another reason to choose Azamara – I wouldn’t want to go on a cruise ship that causes lots of environmental damage, and Azamara are very careful where they anchor, so they don’t damage such areas as coral reefs. While I was on-board, a passenger had found a bat in their room, which was fed milk every few hours by the ship’s environmental officer until we got to port and transferred it to an animal hospital. That was the sort of thing that really attracted me to Azamara.
Be honest, did you get the chance to unwind in the Azamara Spa while on-board? I’ve heard it’s just the thing after a hard day’s exploring!
Yes, everyone was really friendly and we did have a full day off on one of the sea days, so myself and the crew could really appreciate all the on-board features, the food, and all the wonderful stuff that went on. The shows were great fun and I enjoyed it a lot.
Is there any animal that you’d love to meet that you’ve not yet had chance to?
Yes a snow leopard – I’d love to see one. A cruise isn’t a good thing to do that but from a cruise ship, I could see a lion-tailed Macaque – another creature I’ve always wanted to see. You only get them in the Western Ghats in India and from one of the ports we visit in the Indian Ocean show, you could travel from the ship to see them in the wild.
What’s next for Nigel Marven?
I’ll fly out on the day of the marathon to film snakes in Spain. We’re doing European vipers but also travelling to Italy for an amazing festival in Cocullo, where they take the statue of a saint through the streets bedecked with giant snakes – the biggest in Europe. We’ll be filming that on May 1st. I’m looking forward to it and I’ll be back in the UK on May 4th in time for when the show comes out.