Expedition Operations Director Jason Flesher puts the immersive discovery program into a Scenic Eclipse voyage. From kayaking in Antarctica to hiking up volcanoes in Guatemala, he spends every day ensuring his Discovery Team delivers the experience of a lifetime for every guest. And that’s the perfect stage in the most innovative ship in the world, with two helicopters, a submarine, and an endless supply of water toys. In Maritime Masters, he’ll reveal how his team makes the magic happen.
Can you tell us how you became interested in pursuing a career in expedition cruising?
I've been in outdoor education and guiding all over the world for over 40 years. My specialties were rock climbing and mountaineering, backpacking, survival skills, all that good stuff. And I had joined the Navy in my late teens, early twenties, and that's when I fell in love with the sea. Then in 2010, I was offered the opportunity to go to Antarctica with a non-profit as a lead expedition guide and I jumped at it. Since then, I’ve done nearly 100 voyages down there and in the Arctic.
How did you start working with Scenic?
I was approached back in the very, very beginning, when Scenic Eclipse was still in the shipyard, asking if I would be interested in being a lead kayaking guide. They asked me to come to the shipyard a month before the launch to unpack and organise all the expedition gear and get the program set up. Well, one thing led to another and the Discovery Leader couldn’t show up. Knowing that I’d been an expedition leader in the past, they asked if I would take over this role for Scenic Eclipse on her maiden voyage. And I said, ‘of course’. Since then, my role has grown to oversee and manage not only the Discovery Team, but the Discovery Leader as well. This includes finding our specialists from around the world as well as itinerary planning that creates discovery experiences in remote locations of the world.
LEFT: Jason Flesher, Expedition Operations Director
What's involved in preparing Scenic Eclipse for an Antarctic season?
It takes about a year of preparation before the season gets going. So even though we’ve only just wrapped a season, right now I’m working on 2023/2024. At this stage, that comes down to itineraries, to permits and also scheduling. Even further ahead, I'm already working for 2024/2025 and our new destination, the Ross Sea, and East Antarctica, for when Scenic Eclipse II is based in the Southern Hemisphere. I have to plan two years out for the Ross Sea program, so I'm already working with government officials.
The discovery experiences truly stand Scenic Eclipse apart. How does The World's First Discovery YachtTM set the benchmark in ultra-luxury discovery?
That’s something I truly strive for every day. My mantra is ‘We're on the cutting edge. We're the pioneers in polar exploration.’ And I make sure that's integrated into all my guides. That’s one thing I’ve figured out – I hire for personality. I can train anybody to do anything, but I cannot give somebody a personality. So, it's finding the right synergy for the team, for the ship, for the guests, for the experience. And that synergy is so infectious. On board, no other ship provides everything we do. We were the pioneers with helicopters and submersibles, and now other cruise lines are trying to replicate us.
RIGHT: Zodiac, Chilean Fjords
The Discovery Team is at the heart of Scenic Eclipse's expedition voyages. Can you tell us more about how you build your team?
I hire the best of the best of the expedition guides from all over the world. So, we interview people literally three to five times a week. We also not only try to find the best around the world but specialists, from our lecturers to our naturalists, who are PhDs and have master’s degrees in their fields. That means not only are we providing that enriching experience for our guests, but at the same time, we’re protecting the wildlife and the land in the pristine regions we operate in, like Antarctica and the Arctic.
Can you walk us through what a typical day on board Scenic Eclipse is like for your Discovery Team when they are in discovery mode?
For the Discovery Leader, that day actually starts at about 9 pm the night before. They will always go up to the Captain's office to look at weather charts and the next day’s itinerary. Then everybody will meet on the bridge early in the morning to confirm their activities and they’ll lead two sessions in the day, morning and afternoon. They're working anywhere from 12- to 15- or 16-hour days sometimes and they love it because they're engaging with the guests. Even when they're having dinner, they’re hosting tables with the guests, sharing stories, and just enjoying that time.
How do you ensure that, especially when visiting remote destinations like Antarctica and the Arctic, you can provide guests with a variety of discovery experiences, even in such an extreme environment?
We find the microclimates before everybody else because we actually start four days before, not the night before. We check not just the weather models, but we're seeing the trend of what's happening over the prior days. So, we’ll start making decisions, find an available site within the pocket of stable weather or stick to our current plan and make way to the best suited location for the next day's excursions.
LEFT: Jason Flesher and Discovery Team
How was it to be part of the Maritime Masters project?
For me, personally, being part of a project like this was very humbling, but very exciting. The TV crew were exceptional. They made it so easy and relaxing and very professional on so many levels. One thing I learned about reality shows from talking to the crew is that a lot of it is actually scripted and staged. But with this project, it was actually true reality. It wasn't scripted or staged at all. They let us just organically do our thing and let things organically unfold as they did.
What’s your advice for guests to enjoy the most of their expedition voyage on board Scenic Eclipse?
There's a phrase we use every time when we do our initial briefing on any voyage; FOMO, the fear of missing out. And we tell guests, "Don't fear you're going to miss something, just be totally immersed in where you are and let that experience unfold in front of you and become your story, not someone else's. Stay open-minded because that's going to be the most memorable thing for you. And remember, be a kid. We'll take care of the fun, but don't forget how to be a kid. That's the beautiful thing I love with our guests. Some are so focused on business or life, but after a few days we help them be a kid again and play, and you just see them blossom.
What’s the part of your job that you love the most?
Seeing the guests experience everything. With my job now I don't have as much hands-on time with guests anymore, but with the hiring of the staff, the training of the staff, the itineraries, everything that I do, I still have a footprint in there. Experiencing everything through the guests’ eyes and experiences. That’s where the magic is. That's the beautiful thing that I love and why I've been doing this for over 40 years.
RIGHT: Jason Flesher, Director of Expeditions, and Captain Erwan Le Rouzic
What's next for Scenic Eclipse's discovery experiences?
Some major things are up ahead. One, we have just launched Scenic Eclipse II, and she has a brand new state-of-the-art Triton submarine, Scenic Neptune II. The new submersible is going to be amazing, built specifically for Scenic Eclipse II itself. And the itineraries that we've developed over the next several years are very, very conducive to discovery and exploring the world as we know it.
Why is sustainability important when it comes to cruise ships? How do we minimise our impact and make a difference through the Discovery Team?
I make sure within the Discovery Team that we live and practice sustainability, and we also show our guests firsthand the importance of sustainability and mindful respect for wildlife and so on. Many of our guides are scientists themselves, and we do citizen science within our programs. They love doing expedition work because they love engaging with guests, but at the same time, they bring their expertise. All my guides make sure we leave a minimal carbon footprint, always reusable equipment, reusable water bottles, everything is reusable. What’s really amazing is that more than half of my guides actually live in tiny homes, are off the grid. They’ll have land and a yurt, no electricity, and a well for water; they’re living sustainably because it’s important to them and they’re bringing that mindset to Scenic Eclipse.
Do you have a motto you live by?
My mantra that I've always lived by is an adventure is not of the physical, it's of the mind. It's what we make it to be.
LEFT: Jason Flesher and team in Scenic Neptune