Absolutely spectacular and worth all my skimping and saving! I went with One Ocean Expeditions (located in Squamish BC -they have been involved with finding the lost Franklin vessels) and they were fabulous. Just 96 passengers as the maximum number onboard- we travelled on the Ioffe Akademik across the Drake Passage in Beaufort Scale seas of 9. (Thank goodness for the seasickness patch- and yes it did work- added 6 hours before boarding.) On board was a couple from the Netherlands- he was a naval architect and informed my travelling partner that a smaller ship was perfectly safe- bigger was not better in this case!
The Russian ship and hotel crew were very efficient, and the captain accessible- we were allowed in the bridge anytime…..no blocking the centre windows……food was plentiful (too plentiful in my opinion!- I went to just sandwiches for lunch on the third day) and very good- not fancy however- lots of salads, etc. Tea and coffee available in the bar/ lounge any time. The dining room seated everyone……very friendly atmosphere. The One Ocean team sat with us- basically went from table to table so we got to pick their brains to our heart’s content.
We left from Ushuaia in the evening on the 16th, and arrived in Fournier Bay after 2 days- we were there when we woke up on the 19th. From the 19th until the evening of the 24th we had 2 zodiac landings or cruises a day for at least 2.5 hours- all of us at the same time…..on the 24th in the late evening we set sail for Ushuaia again and arrived early in the morning on the 26th. That was a smooth sail- seas much better- but we all had patches on by that time just in case. The first time round most did not because they are not available in a lot of countries……or people thought they could get away with no seasickness. The doc treated 75% of passengers on the way over for seasickness……
I chose the Marine Mammals voyage (last one of the season) for two reasons- the price was at a lower point, and the marine mammals are very plentiful…..for instance, lots of penguins and seals, and the one morning when I woke for sunrise in Wilhelmina Bay there were humpback whales sleeping in every direction from the bridge deck- that was where our cabin was- I was about 10 feet from the door into the bridge. Here is the route advertised on their site…..their actual stops depend on weather, etc. We stopped at Palmer Station (US research station) as well- this was the first time One Ocean Expeditions had been allowed to stop there……I think primarily because of the whale scientists on board who were working in conjunction with some of their team on base there.
On board beside the expert Russian crew and the One Ocean team (adventurers, expert kayakers, photography experts, etc.) were 3 scientists and an Antarctica historian……the scientists’ specialties were whales and seals…..they tagged a humpback and we were able to see some of the footage (they included it on our memory stick they gave to us at the voyage end with a compilation of the best passenger photos and videos…..). We had talks to attend on our crossings from them as well as some of the speciality One Ocean Team members (for instance 2 of the team were expert kayakers and spent 11 days paddling the Antarctica in February- I followed their progress).
The passengers were a mix from all over the world- HK, Japan, the Netherlands, NZ, Australia, the states, the UK, Canada, etc. etc. Most spoke English quite clearly. There were 4 photojouralists on board- and lots of “professional” amateur photographers. It is hard to take a poor picture……one of my best was taken with my iphone…..I have not looked at my camera pics as yet……
My best memories- the whales all around us in Wilhelmina Bay, being a foot from a curious Wendell seal in the zodiac, being handed a cup of mulled wine after our first zodiac cruise ( we had these a lot of the time- especially in the evening on our return around 7 pm or so when it was cooler….mmmmmm)- visiting Palmer Station and Deception Island, even the Drake crossing in the rough seas and absolutely killing it…….
Next year’s Marine Mammal voyage is priced from $7495 for a triple cabin with shared facilities and up… The One Ocean people have a number of itineraries, and their first trip next year is scheduled for October 17th. There are no specials on for the Antarctica at the moment, but there are for the Arctic- those trips I may consider for in 5 years time…….
I would be more than happy to answer questions if any readers think you would like to head out on this trip or any other. I did meet 2 other couples on the SA portion of my trip that had gone on other expedition providers, and their ships were slightly bigger, thus forcing the zodiac landings into two lots because of the numbers…..the terms of the Antarctica treaty mean only 100 people can land at a time…….having said that though, their experience was also good. Quark Expeditions and Gadventures have excellent reputations for Antarctica expeditions- both have slightly bigger passenger loads I believe.
I would recommend if you do go on the Antarctica trip, that you take advantage of where you are and do a side trip of a couple of days to Iguassu Falls- just spectacular as well, and easily added on to the Antarctica trip. If you are interested in this or any other trip, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 226-927-4061.
Next up- a synopsis of the South American portion.