In Crystal Cruises®, Onboard Pursuits

Cineflex Brings the Northwest Passage to the Big Screen

By Katie Jackson

Twenty years ago Ron Chapple was filming models in advertisements. Today, the CEO of Aerial Filmworks is not shooting fashion. His camera, mounted on the bow of Crystal Serenity, is zooming in on an exciting, and unexpected, naval exercise. It’s clear the three ships in the distance are military, in the tranquil waters a few hundred miles northeast of Bar Harbor. When Chapple moves the joystick and zooms in, the red, white and blue of the flag are easily distinguishable. But there are no stars. This is a French ship.

Ron Chapple at the controls of the Cineflex screens, monitoring developments through the Northwest Passage.
Ron Chapple at the controls of the Cineflex screens, monitoring developments through the Northwest Passage. (photo: Flip Nicklin)

“Look! That’s a helicopter,” says one Crystal guest, balancing a glass of wine in one hand and pointing at one of Chapple’s three computer screens with his other. The curious guest, along with several others, are leaning over Chapple’s shoulder. Other guests are just a few feet away, watching the same action—a helicopter landing and repeatedly taking off from one of the French military vessels—on the two 75-inch screens mounted over the dance floor in Palm Court.

Palm Court has been Chapple’s office for the past four weeks, ever since the Northwest Passage voyage departed from Seward, AK. His job description is simple: to delight guests with real-time footage of the historic crossing. Every day he sits up at his temporary desk—a stone’s throw from Palm Court’s bar and dance floor—and fires up the Cineflex. He’s captured nearly 3,000 hours of footage starring whales, polar bears, icebergs, glaciers and as of today, French battleships and helicopters. Guests can chat with Chapple in Palm Court and watch on the big screens, or view the sightings from the comfort of their staterooms. The Cineflex feed is continually broadcast on channel 82.

This is the first time a program like the Cineflex has been used by a cruise ship. Usually, the equipment is mounted on helicopters and used for feature films, nature documentaries and reality TV shows. When Tim Soper, the Expedition Director for the Northwest Passage, called Chapple 18 months ago and asked if he would join the cruise, Chapple thought he was crazy. “You want me to put the camera on a ship’s bow?” he asked incredulously. But it’s been a hit.

The Cineflex brings the outdoors in—much better than any pair of binoculars can do. It’s especially appreciated by guests who are physically unable to get out in the zodiacs. It’s also popular with the techies on board. Chapple readily hands over the controls, teaching guests how to operate the joystick and zoom in on distant objects. Like battleships.

“It’s the Languedoc,” says one of the guests peering over Chapple’s shoulder. Within a minute of Chapple zooming in the number painted on the ship’s side, D653, the guest has whipped out his phone and asked Google to identify the ship.

Where would we be without technology?

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