Wow – if you have adventure in your blood and want to get to the Seventh Continent – then Antarctica is a must do! I just finished a 10-day /9-night Antarctica cruise with Atlas Ocean Voyages, a new luxury cruise company that offers amazing itineraries in many off-the-beaten-path destinations. As a travel advisor, it is always good to get to know the different products available. As we tend to lean towards specialty travel, we decided to introduce ourselves to this new cruise line with their Antarctica package. To prepare, we did some critical shopping. Being from Georgia, we don’t have the type of clothing needed for Antarctica, like long underwear. We cruised in January, and as it turned out, it was actually warmer in Antarctica than in Georgia!
We started our journey with a charter flight to Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America. We arrived in the morning but were not allowed to board the vessel until the afternoon, so a day tour was arranged in Ushuaia with a fabulous barbeque lunch. Ushuaia is a small and inviting town and has a fabulous National Park called Tierra Del Fuego.
Once we were on board the ship, they checked our temperature and pulse and cleared us to enter our cabin and start our journey. The cabins are typical cruise cabins but very well appointed. Bedding was comfortable, seating in the room was good and the bathroom shower was the best I have ever had on any cruise. It was almost a bad thing, as I am sure fresh water is complicated on a small ship, but I couldn’t help myself and took long showers a few times! The room temperature control is a dial, so you really don’t know what it is set at – it took us a few nights to find a good setting. They also stocked the refrigerator daily with our favorite beverages, including beer, which was interesting, as on excursion days in Antarctica they didn’t want us drinking, but you could go to your room to drink.
The actual cruise included two days going and returning on the Drake’s Passage. They describe it two ways – Drake Lake or Drake Shake, depending on how rough the waters are. We had a slight version of Drake Shake going on day one with day two a bit calmer. I do strongly recommend taking Dramamine or something similar just to be safe, as several guests experienced motion sickness. The return was a bit rougher with day two definitely a shake of a ride, but most were more prepared, and the captain tried to go faster to get through the rough seas. On the way there he averaged 12-13 knots, and, on the return, he did 15-16 knots. It may have something to do with the currents, but I was sure glad we got back in about 36 hours rather than 48.
Lemaire Channel and Salpetriere Bay
When we woke up on the morning of day three, we had arrived at the Antarctic Peninsula, and I couldn’t snap pictures fast enough to take in the scenery. Words can’t convey the stunning beauty of ice mountains and icebergs floating, some with penguins and seals on them and the occasional whale surfacing. I got a sighting of a raft of penguins, which was a first for me. Once we arrived in Antarctica, we began twice-a-day excursions. Some were via Zodiac, and some were landings. All the landings are wet landings, as there are no piers. They have an amazing expedition staff on board that take all precautions to ensure that you have a wonderful and safe experience. I personally preferred the landing excursions, as we could walk among the penguins and seals. We always had to yield to the penguins and avoid the trails they create for waddling about. We saw Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adelie Penguins on our various island landings and some sightings also from the Zodiacs. We also spotted all seal types, including Elephant Seals, on our last day to Elephant Point. Be flexible, as the itinerary posted at the website differs quite a bit from what you actually do based on weather conditions. Icebergs caused some changes as well as landing scenarios due to sea conditions. But in the end, the captain and his crew, along with the expedition team, do all they can to make sure you get an amazing experience while in Antarctica. We cruised through Lemaire Channel to our first landing, Port Charcot, but icebergs prevented us from landing, so we did a Zodiac exploration. On this same day, we did the polar plunge! The water was 29 degrees (saltwater freezes at 28.6 +/- degrees). One and done for me! Day two was the most beautiful day ever in Antarctica according to the guides. They were in heaven, saying it was the prettiest day all season. The temperature was in the 40’s, and we were removing our parkas. We did a morning landing at Base Brown in Paradise Harbor and an afternoon visit to Neko Harbor. At Base Brown we hiked up to a peak and slid down. We also walked among Gentoo Penguins that were nesting. Then, at Neko Harbor, we kayaked on water that was like glass, followed by another landing with even more penguins. We even spotted some of the hatchlings, and we watched the Skua birds, who were waiting for a vulnerable chick to dine on. As we sailed along to our next stop, we came upon a group of Humpback whales feeding, which was quite a sight. On day three, there were two Zodiac trips as the weather this day was not conducive to landing. We were on the hunt for whales, seals and more penguins plus the shipwreck of Guvernoren – a whaling ship that burned and sunk close to shore. Our last day of landings was at Pendulum Cove which is part of an active volcano that had a Chilean research station that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the late 60’s. The ruins of this facility remain as a reminder of how difficult the environment is in this part of the world. Wildlife doesn’t like this spot due to its volcanic nature, but we did see some fur seals and Weddell seals. Our last visit before heading back across Drake Passage was to Elephant point. These beaches were covered in penguin rookeries, nesting albatrosses and elephant seals – appropriately named. The smell of animal droppings was quite intense! The weather was good enough for a landing but was almost acrobatic. The expedition team worked hard to get us off the Zodiacs to be able to walk on this island. We spent a couple of hours just watching the seals, penguins and birds interacting in this epic eco habitat.
Tips if you go: no need for dressy clothes – practical and warm is fine. If your supplier doesn’t give you a parka (Atlas does) then you definitely want to bring a winter parka. Hot Hands and Hot Feet warmers were good to have, as well as a warm head covering, plus waterproof pants and thick socks. One pair of long underwear was enough. The cruise line suggested multiple sets, but both of us and other passengers agreed that they wore just one set. Waterproof boots are provided by most suppliers, so just simple tennis shoes or hiking shoes are fine, no insulated boots are needed. To be honest, I got hot in all the layers, but our weather was generally good. We averaged high 20’s to low 30’s most days.
Antarctica was a bucket list destination, and I would go again. In fact, Condor Tours & Travel has put a group together for February 21, 2023, and have an amazing price for this destination. If you are interested, I’m happy to help. Email me at email@example.com or call 770-339-9961.