My dream trip to Antarctica
For me, Antarctica was one of those spots so remote that I thought it would be on my bucket list for forever. It was on my list for years, but not near as many as I thought. Let's get this out of the way...yes, it is a LONG way to get there and yes---it is expensive. However it was absolutely AMAZING! One of the few destinations to live up to the hype. Antarctica is also a changing environment. If I had visited 10 years ago, it would have looked very different....and if I visit again in 10 years, it will look different than it did this trip. Unfortunately, not in a positive way. I saw a news article when I got back that in one part of Antarctica the temperature had reached 70 degrees above normal. 70 degrees is HUGE! It is was not in a part I visited and yes, it was still cold. But 70 degrees warmer affects the ice and the living beings that live in Antarctica in harmful ways. I choose to hope that perhaps the damage will be repaired enough at some point to have temperature stabilize.
Antarctica was a bit more adventurous than I was expecting, but part of that is because I traveled with Atlas Ocean Voyages---a company that is described as luxe-adventure. I enjoyed being able to get on land and hike up on the snow for wonderful panoramic views. However, if I had any mobility challenges, the excursions would have been difficult or impossible. So, this is not a trip to wait until you are retired to experience (although there are less strenuous sailings if this all sounds a bit much).
All of this to say, if Antarctica is on your list...NOW is the time.
Let me tell you a bit about my experience. Atlas Ocean Voyages chartered a plane from Orlando, FL to Ushuaia, Argentina where we boarded the ship. I'm not going to go into much detail about the charter as they have decided not to continue this part...it looks like it will be a charter from Buenos Aires so you can experience other parts of Argentina before and/or after the cruise. Many other cruise lines do this charter from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. COVID and the strict testing requirements were one of the main reasons they tried the charter from Florida. Hopefully that is less of a concern moving forward.
After landing in Ushuaia, we were taken by bus into the Andes mountains for some scenic driving and lunch. We boarded the ship in the late afternoon and did the normal safety briefings before sailing out in to the Beagle Channel. While the Beagle is famous, the next part---the Drake Passage---is infamous. It is notorious for having some of the roughest seas on Earth. However, it can also be quite peaceful. One is termed the Drake Shake and the other the Drake Lake. We had something in the middle. I think the highest seas we had were around 21 feet which was high enough for me. The boat was for sure rocking, but you could eat and not have your plate fall off the table. I looked out the balcony door of my stateroom on deck 5 and would occasionally see a huge spray of water even at that level of the ship (which often happened after a loud noise coming from the bow). It was best not to think too much about how damaging the waves could be :) The World Navigator is a brand new ship and has state of the art stabilizers and I was thankful for them each day. I imagine you feel the swells much more on some other ships.
Because we didn't have a terrible Drake, we were able to make a stop in the South Shetland Islands. We could go on land at a former whaling station. We were lucky that there were 15 or so fur seals chilling on the beach...they mostly didn't seem to care that we were there. The landing sites are all regulated---only 100 people (or fewer) can be on land at any one time, so the Zodiac groups are staggered and your departure time announced before leaving the Zodiac. This is one reason to sail with a small ship--so you have as many landing opportunities as possible. Our sailing was nearly full and had 157 guests. The areas you are allowed to walk are marked by safety cones and the expedition team keep an eye out to make sure people are staying on the correct side of the cones (honestly, it was confusing some times).
I said the seals mostly didn't care....well I was walking along the beach and noticed a seal inside one of the old barrels. I took a couple of photos at a distance (using my zoom) and heard a noise....it took me a minute to realize he was hissing at me! I looked at my photos later and can see him growling at me. I was at least 10 feet away, but I'm still glad he chose to be lazy instead of making a move :)
The next day started the "real" Antarctica visits....we stopped on islands and we stopped on the actual continent....called continental landings....on our sailing. It is important to note that nothing is guaranteed in Antarctica. The weather changes quickly and plans change. No specific landings or Zodiac sailings are listed on the itinerary. We were lucky and got to visit nearly all of the places our expedition team hoped to visit. You have to go with the flow and understand that you may go all this way and only get to step on some sort of land once (or very rarely, not at all). I am beyond grateful that I was able to see and experience all that I did. This was my 7th and last continent to visit so it was especially memorable for me. Even the times where you aren't off the ship, you are still surrounded by beauty. I caught myself sitting in awe looking out the balcony doors several times....minutes turned to hours in a blink of an eye. The scenery was memorizing....and I was always looking hoping to see a whale or seal or an avalanche or a glacier calving or some other amazing event.
The experience on the World Navigator was also a great experience. The staff was amazing, the staterooms large and the food very good. You are on board a fair amount, so having a comfortable place to call home for the sailing is important. I 100% recommend Atlas and have some great promos currently if you are interested in sailing with them (to Antartica or one of the many other destinations they sail). I will leave it with one of my most memorable events of the trip---the polar plunge! Our sailing was especially crazy. Typically about 30% of the guests do the plunge---101 of the 157 did on ours. It was a festive atmosphere in the mud room as we all waited our turn. For me, that was over an hour which was an hour where I questioned my sanity :) Honestly, the anticipation is WAY worse than the jump. The staff tie a band around your waist in case you need help back in, but I didn't see anyone need help. The Zodiacs keep the ice out and it is a smooth process. You drop your robe, get the band, go to edge, prepare to smile for the camera (the photographer is in a Zodiac in the water) and JUMP! In all, I bet I was in and out and back in my robe in 3 minutes. The water temp was 32.7 and yes, it was cold, but I was expecting it to be a painful cold. I didn't have that experience. I was surprised when I was under water and I did feel urgency to get to the steps out, but no pain. It was more like exhilaration :) My face doesn't exactly convey that, but I am so glad I took the leap (pun intended!)
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent (thanks to the recent visit to Antarctica!