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Antarctica -- Drive By or Step On

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Considering Antarctica before new regs go in place. Debating between a drive by cruise -v- a step on expedition.  For those that have done either or both, what else should I consider in addition to whether I value stepping onto the 7th continent, the ship size/amenities, and the cost? How did you decide?

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General thoughts are the only way to go is step on.  That it's a poor substitute to do drive by unless you have to.  However, I love cruises, so I'll give you a summary of what I think the differences are.

1) Size of boat.  Bigger boat- more amenities.  My small ship basically had 2 lectures/day, meals and talking to other people.  When bad weather made us cancel some stops, we LITERALLY pulled out a puzzle so we weren't that bored. Bigger cruise ships can have all the amenities- entertainment, food whenever you want, spas, casinos, etc.

2) Cost- I was in a triple room, top bunk, bathroom down the hall for the low price of 11k a person.  I worked hard to make it that low.  Bigger ships are usually cheaper than step on cruises.

3) Safety- our life boat drill was amazingly terrifying on the small ship.  (Seat belt in because you will just roll over in the life boat for 4 days if we have to evacuate). No elevator.  Difficult to get on and off the zodiacs.  Are you at a health that you would be ok with hiking a mile or so for fun up a hill?  

4) Assurance that it will go.  We lost 1 day of our trip for weather. That happens...less... on the bigger ships I think. Multiple families on my ship were on their second attempt because the first one was just cancelled outright.  

5) Having a penguin waddle next to you?  Or a penguin literally jump onto the zodiac (I was on my knees turned around taking pictures) and slap you in the face? That stuff is priceless.  I also heard about the whole inner workings of Port Lockeroy from someone who was going down there. My trip was a once in a life time trip I'd like to duplicate because it was so amazing.  I would only do a drive by cruise as that second time if my parents were coming with me (they aren't in exceptional health). Otherwise, I want to step on the snow, and just marvel at the penguins next to me. I think someone here did a huge thread with their pictures from their drive by, and it was what I saw on the ship, but the time on land was precious.

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2 hours ago, celoplyr said:

General thoughts are the only way to go is step on.  That it's a poor substitute to do drive by unless you have to.  However, I love cruises, so I'll give you a summary of what I think the differences are....

...I would only do a drive by cruise as that second time if my parents were coming with me (they aren't in exceptional health). Otherwise, I want to step on the snow, and just marvel at the penguins next to me.

 

celoplyr,

Thanks for your thorough analysis and food for thought. Much to consider. Your lifeboat observations made me think back to cold water rescue drills during the summer I had on a sailboat out of Seward.

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We’re leaving in two weeks for a cruise on the Hurtigruten Midnatsol. For us, it’s a happy compromise. We get to make landings and experience that wonder, but we also get a larger,

more comfortable ship. The price is right,

too. We’re paying about $7K pp. Yes, that’s more than a drive-by costs. But I think we’re going to be very pleased with the experiences we have. We’re just so excited and ready to go!

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I would like to get back to 2 of the interesting points made by celoplyr, because I have a different view on some of them.

 

Safety : there have been, to my knowledge, only two cases when people had to be evacuated from a cruise ship in Antarctica (the MV Explorer, which sank in 2007, and MS Nordkapp which grounded in Deception island in 2007 also). In both cases, the passengers were quickly recovered by another ship in the area (actually, in both cases it was Hurtigruten's MS Nordnorge). It is possible to rescue a couple of hundred people on another ship quickly. I don't believe anyone would have to roll in a lifeboat for 4 days. Recovering thousands of passengers from a big cruise ship would be incredibly more complicated because most ships sailing in Antarctica would not have the capacity. Getting in and out the zodiacs can indeed be a problem, although some ships have very efficient landing platforms that make going into the zodiac quite easy.

 

Also (and I don't have the data to actually back this up, but this is based on a bit of sailing knowledge) I do not think cancellations/delays happen more often with small ships. Very big ships are not always built to endure well this type of weather and seas. Total cancellation of a trip are not common at all (do you know celoplyr which ship the passengers you mention were supposed to sail on initially?).

 

I agree that if you are seriously mobility impaired then it's probably easier to do a drive-by (but I've just seen a report of a man in a wheelchair who landed in Antarctica from an expedition ship, I think it was with Hurtigruten. I've personally witnessed passengers with mobility impairement helped by the crew as much as need be to make sure they would safely land on Antarctica, so I don't think it's an absolute deal-breaker).

 

I've done only expeditions trips with landings. I think the most amazing experience I get from those landings is the close observation of wildlife (and even interaction, when they are curious enough to come close, which is actually quite often). You can definitely get amazing landscapes from the ship, and I think Antarctica's amazingness is enough to make you enjoy a first trip even if it's a cruise-by, but being close to wildlife and ice is something else (and also agree with the zodiac rides).

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I haven't done a drive-by, but I don't think I would. The scenery is indeed amazing, but the wildlife is also amazing. Antarctica has no land predators, so (within reasonable conservation limits) you can get quite close to the animals. Watching the antics in a penguin colony is unforgettable, and the amount of drama those little birds create among the breeding pairs can entertain me for hours.

 

I would, however, do a drive-by for health and mobility concerns. Expedition ships are indeed designed for expeditions, and while some of them can be almost as lavish as small cruise ships, they are first and foremost expedition ships. Given their smaller sizes, they tend to be rockier in rough seas, and landings will always require a bit of mobility. It is important to recognize your own limitations for the health and safety of both yourself and the other passengers aboard.

 

Some of the ships bridge the gap slightly, and I've found that the polarcirkel landing boats used by Hurtigruten's Fram are much easier on landings than traditional zodiacs. However, they still come with the caveat that you need to get down the steps to the landing platform.

 

Beyond that, the primary limitations of an expedition cruise the cost and the amenities.

 

As mentioned, there are some very nicely appointed expedition ships, and there's a growing number of all-suite luxury vessels among the new builds. That said, these ships will still have far fewer amenities than a massive cruise ship. In all cases, you will need to be able to entertain yourself during sea days and downtime as there are always significant periods of downtime between landings, lectures, and other organized activities. Most of the companies have brought in logistics experts, and the quality of food has gone up tremendously compared to ten years ago, but while the food on most ships is reasonably good now, you can't expect the same level of choice and quality as on a massive ship with an enormous galley and hundreds of chefs. Honestly, the only people I've ever heard complain about an expedition cruise to Antarctica were people who were expecting a higher standard of ship than they were traveling on. So I think it's worth being aware of your own expectations and booking a trip that meets your minimum comfort level. For me, I can travel on even the most basic ships, as I just need a bed and preferably an en-suite bathroom. Others need a higher standard (and sometimes much higher) to be comfortable, and while there are much nicer ships than the ones I've been on, it's important to understand what to expect.

 

Bigger ships tend to have more amenities, and many of the new builds are targeting the ~200 passenger range, but this comes at the expense of time ashore. Plenty of people are happy to split their time between the landing site and relaxing on the ship admiring the scenery. Others prefer to be ashore as much as possible, watching the wildlife, exploring the landing site, or just soaking up the atmosphere. Again, personal preference. I'd say that if you're the type of traveler who likes to be on the go from morning to evening, a ~100 passenger ship might be the better choice.

 

As for cost, this one is tightly correlated to the above. Nicer ships cost more. Smaller ships tend to cost more. When cost is a significant concern, it can be mitigated slightly by traveling early or late in the season (there are pros and cons to each part of the season) or by booking as soon as new sailings are announced or last-minute to fill available space.

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I've just begun researching Antarctic cruises, so I am looking for all the advice I can get from those whom have actually done it...

I am looking for a fairly comfortable expedition ship, that will be a balance between time ashore via Zodiac's, and still offer some nice typical cruise life, with lot's of enrichment expert lecturer's.   Since I will more than likely only do this 'once', I don't mind paying a little more, to receive a fantastic experience.  I am fairly fit, but not looking for strenuous shore activites other than exploring nearby the landing sites.  I am especially interested in historic places, and perhaps visiting research stations, more so than wildlife.   I would really like a ship that has an 'open bridge policy', if that exists (like Windstar).   I wish to concentrate on just Antarctica, and not combine with nearby area's, that I will cover on a different cruise in the future...

 

I am considering: Lindblad, Quark, Ponant, Seabourn, Silversea, Hurtigruten, Hapag-Lloyd, Scenic, and Crystal...not necessaraliy in that listed order.    

Would appreciate any feedback on choosing from them, or any other's that I might have overlooked...

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I have sailed with Hurtigruten and know a lot of people who have sailed with Ponant, Lindbland and Quark. All would pretty much fit your bill (for Hurtigruten, I would go with the smaller Fram, don't know if the bigger ship do visit research station?). The only uncertainty for me is the open bridge policy. There is not one on Hurtigruten for sure. There is usually one on Ponant, but it depends on the captain (some are good with this, and some not). I don't know about the others.

If you want to actually land in Antarctica to visit those places you have to be on a ship with less than 500 passengers.

Can you say what you mean by "nearby areas"? Would Falkland Islands and South Georgia considered as "nearby areas" for you? FI can be visited on some South America cruises I think, but not SGI (although some operators now offer expedition cruises that focus only on SGI).

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I'm too late to edit. You can have a look at the "Antarctic Adventures" forum on Trip Advisor, there is a FAQ there with many trip reports which can help with choice of ship/company.

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1 hour ago, bob brown said:

I am looking for a fairly comfortable expedition ship, that will be a balance between time ashore via Zodiac's, and still offer some nice typical cruise life, with lot's of enrichment expert lecturer's.

Every expedition cruise is a balance of shore time, zodiac cruising, and lectures. It would help if you could be more specific about how you'd like to see those divided.

 

Since you were emphatic about only wanted firsthand experience, I can't offer much advice as I've only traveled with a few companies (and my next trip doesn't depart until next week). GAdventures has an open bridge policy, and the MS Expedition is "comfortable," but she's a far cry from a "typical cruise." Sailing with Hurtigruten on the Fram felt a bit more like a typical cruise with her big panoramic lounge, elevators, and assigned tables at two dinner seatings. She does not have an open bridge policy, and zodiac cruising is mostly limited to a paid add-on allocated onboard according to availability.

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8 hours ago, bob brown said:

I've just begun researching Antarctic cruises, so I am looking for all the advice I can get from those whom have actually done it...

I am looking for a fairly comfortable expedition ship, that will be a balance between time ashore via Zodiac's, and still offer some nice typical cruise life, with lot's of enrichment expert lecturer's.   Since I will more than likely only do this 'once', I don't mind paying a little more, to receive a fantastic experience.  I am fairly fit, but not looking for strenuous shore activites other than exploring nearby the landing sites.  I am especially interested in historic places, and perhaps visiting research stations, more so than wildlife.   I would really like a ship that has an 'open bridge policy', if that exists (like Windstar).   I wish to concentrate on just Antarctica, and not combine with nearby area's, that I will cover on a different cruise in the future...

 

I am considering: Lindblad, Quark, Ponant, Seabourn, Silversea, Hurtigruten, Hapag-Lloyd, Scenic, and Crystal...not necessaraliy in that listed order.    

Would appreciate any feedback on choosing from them, or any other's that I might have overlooked...

 

If you are more interested in the historic aspect, consider an expedition that goes to the Ross Sea.  We did a month-long trip with Oceanwide that was Ushuaia to New Zealand a few years ago.  Just being able to visit the historic huts of Scott and Shackleton was a highlight ... as was being able to helicopter into the Dry Valleys ... but of course we experienced so much more that it was worth every penny.  Not a luxury vessel, but open bridge policy and very comfortable cabins.  Absolutely no complaints.

 

I wrote an extensive blog, but have since made it private.  If you want to check it out, drop me a note (eerkun ... it’s a yahoo email address so format accordingly) and I will send you an invite to be able to view it.

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I've done 4 long expeditions with Quark and Oceanwide (one being the reverse Ross Sea trip that 2552phxcrzr mentions above). Both of whom have open bridge policies, expert lecturers, multiple landings/excursions per day (as always - with the addendum of 'weather conditions' rule the day).

 

I would go again multiple more times pending my income and any further lottery win.

 

I know for a fact that Scenic can accomodate wheelchair passengers as I know a very well known Aus politician with no legs (from well above the knees) - who I ran into in Ushuaia - was travelling with them and was able to do zodiac cruising and landings.

 

On each of my expeditions the age range has been from roughly 15 to 96 (and I can safely say the 96 year olds were fitter than me!). There was the Ross sea trip where there were two extremely bored under tens who appeared to have wished they were anywhere else.

Each landing is different and the expedition team will generally give you an idea the night before or right before hand - the actual shore conditions. Some folks choose to go on hikes. I tend to just find myself a nice spot away from the crowd and take a seat and let the wildlife stroll up to me. I get my own little encounters.

 

Many of the newer ships have been built with posh flat walk up entrance to the zodiac boarding now so its less of the gamely traversing down steep wobbly gangways that I have experienced.

 

As for the difference between a drive by in large cruise liner, vs small expedition vessel with landings. It will always be expedition vessel for me. To me - a drive by would be like walking past a restaurant and smelling an amazing menu - then strolling on by without dining.

 

But it is 100% a personal choice that generally comes down to someone's budget first, then physicality (tho that is less vital), and own personal desire as to what experience they desire most. 

 

And I heartily agree with what SarniaLo wrote in regards to safety. My friend and her hubby were on the Explorer when it sunk. At all times through that night and day she felt completely safe and the lifeboats were excellent. Those few who had to go on zodiacs were put in the gumby survival suits and were perfectly warm. They were all allowed to take a bag with spare clothes, medications and valuables so her laptop and camera went with her and she was able to photograph and video everything as a personal record. They were rescued speedily and to this day they look back at it as a great adventure and have done several more polar trips since that one.

 

The only other expedition ship (well the bigger luxurious kind) that required evacuating in recent times was Le Boreal which was a shipboard fire incident. https://en.mercopress.com/2015/11/21/le-boreal-cruise-passengers-will-be-leaving-falklands-over-the-weekend 

https://en.mercopress.com/2016/07/21/falklands-le-boreal-2015-engine-room-fire-ignited-by-clogged-fuel-filter-says-report

 

Personally I really hope big cruise liners are banned from the region very soon. The idea of an accident where 1500 to 4000 passengers have to somehow be rescued is unthinkable. When you consider how many died on the Costa Concordia (sp?) and it was literally metres from the shoreline - swimming distance in warm Med waters!  There are no shore facilities that could cope with those numbers, let alone other vessels large enough. And the Chile or Argentine navy would not get there fast enough. Let alone imagining the ecological disaster from such a huge volume of fuel leaking into that pristine environment.

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On 2/7/2020 at 1:15 AM, SarniaLo said:

I would like to get back to 2 of the interesting points made by celoplyr, because I have a different view on some of them.

 

Safety : there have been, to my knowledge, only two cases when people had to be evacuated from a cruise ship in Antarctica (the MV Explorer, which sank in 2007, and MS Nordkapp which grounded in Deception island in 2007 also). In both cases, the passengers were quickly recovered by another ship in the area (actually, in both cases it was Hurtigruten's MS Nordnorge). It is possible to rescue a couple of hundred people on another ship quickly. I don't believe anyone would have to roll in a lifeboat for 4 days. Recovering thousands of passengers from a big cruise ship would be incredibly more complicated because most ships sailing in Antarctica would not have the capacity. Getting in and out the zodiacs can indeed be a problem, although some ships have very efficient landing platforms that make going into the zodiac quite easy.

 

Also (and I don't have the data to actually back this up, but this is based on a bit of sailing knowledge) I do not think cancellations/delays happen more often with small ships. Very big ships are not always built to endure well this type of weather and seas. Total cancellation of a trip are not common at all (do you know celoplyr which ship the passengers you mention were supposed to sail on initially?).

 

I agree that if you are seriously mobility impaired then it's probably easier to do a drive-by (but I've just seen a report of a man in a wheelchair who landed in Antarctica from an expedition ship, I think it was with Hurtigruten. I've personally witnessed passengers with mobility impairement helped by the crew as much as need be to make sure they would safely land on Antarctica, so I don't think it's an absolute deal-breaker).

 

 

Cut out some of the reply, sorry it took me a while to get back here.

 

For the safety- I think that the Antarctica ships emphasize safety better, but I also agree that the guy was exaggerating so that we paid attention. I was also on a line where they had another ship run aground the summer before in the Arctic.  The MOST important thing about safety is your ability to handle the excursions.

 

For the cancellations they were Quark the year before (so Dec 2017?). I think the cruise did finally go, but was only 5 days, and didn't go to Antarctica. Maybe? We were delayed a day to fly into the Falklands, and then had 2-3 days where we couldn't land due to the weather.

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Thanks for all that responded to my inquiry.   I have ordered brochures from most of the lines going there, and will pour over them seriously when they arrive.   It is easier to compare than doing it online...

 

Speaking of ultimate  cruises...anyone see this news item on CC today?

https://www.cruisecritic.com/news/5085/

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On 2/6/2020 at 11:42 AM, HAL Sailer said:

Considering Antarctica before new regs go in place. Debating between a drive by cruise -v- a step on expedition.  For those that have done either or both, what else should I consider in addition to whether I value stepping onto the 7th continent, the ship size/amenities, and the cost? How did you decide?

I'm just back (yesterday) from my drive by cruise on the Coral Princess. I would say the drive by is enough and wonderful . I would do it again in a heartbeat. 

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I just booked the 28 February expedition on the Hurtigruten Roald Amundsen.   While the itinerary is not exactly what I was looking for, by booking this close to sailing, I got a terrific deal, that was "an offer I couldn't refuse"....

So excited to finally reach Antarctica!😀

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Congratulations, Bob. We just got off of Roald Amundsen and had a great time. The ship is beautiful, the staff is great and Antarctica is beyond words.

 

I think you made a good choice. We also got an offer we couldn't refuse on RA, and although I know some passengers paid twice what we paid (which, in my mind, was way too much for a one-landing-a-day expedition), for what we paid, it was perfect.

 

One thing that never occurred to me until we got to Antarctica was that although penguin colonies are large, penguins themselves are small and, I would imagine, hard to experience on a drive-by. On RA, we literally had a Gentoo hop into our Zodiac (and then hop out).

Edited by Bella0714

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On 2/13/2020 at 11:35 AM, Bella0714 said:

Congratulations, Bob. We just got off of Roald Amundsen and had a great time. The ship is beautiful, the staff is great and Antarctica is beyond words.

 

I think you made a good choice. We also got an offer we couldn't refuse on RA, and although I know some passengers paid twice what we paid (which, in my mind, was way too much for a one-landing-a-day expedition), for what we paid, it was perfect.

 

One thing that never occurred to me until we got to Antarctica was that although penguin colonies are large, penguins themselves are small and, I would imagine, hard to experience on a drive-by. On RA, we literally had a Gentoo hop into our Zodiac (and then hop out).

I saw many penguins close up (close enough to touch) on my "drive by cruise" we passed many icebergs with all differnt types of penguins (on the trip I saw king, gentoo, adelie, chin strap, macaroni, rockhopper, and Magellanic)

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1 hour ago, lois1112 said:

I saw many penguins close up (close enough to touch) on my "drive by cruise" we passed many icebergs with all differnt types of penguins (on the trip I saw king, gentoo, adelie, chin strap, macaroni, rockhopper, and Magellanic)

Close enough to touch on the Coral Princess? We were on a ship a quarter of the size and never got close enough to touch unless we were on land or in a Zodiac. Do you mean in South America?

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2 hours ago, Bella0714 said:

Close enough to touch on the Coral Princess? We were on a ship a quarter of the size and never got close enough to touch unless we were on land or in a Zodiac. Do you mean in South America?

yes your right that was a slight exaggeration! But we had several places where we could see them extremely well.  ( on ice bergs etc or porpoising) well enough to be able to tell which ones were seen.

I looked at several of the expedition type ships before I booked this one, and some of them are quite big too. 

For me, I saw what I went to Antarctica to see.   Beautiful landscapes, Ice bergs and wildlife

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On 2/6/2020 at 2:42 PM, HAL Sailer said:

Considering Antarctica before new regs go in place. Debating between a drive by cruise -v- a step on expedition.  For those that have done either or both, what else should I consider in addition to whether I value stepping onto the 7th continent, the ship size/amenities, and the cost? How did you decide?

 

I'm going to throw in a comment on the flip side of the drive-by vs. expedition discussion. We did a drive-by with Celebrity and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had wanted to go to Antarctica for many years but held off for fear of the potentially rough sailing across the Drake. As has been mentioned, it's possible that there is more motion encountered with a smaller, expeditionary ship. So part of the decision for me was to use a bigger ship. Also, we had never been to South America, and so the Celebrity itinerary - while not allowing us the undoubtedly amazing experience of actually setting foot on Antarctica let alone the wonders to be encountered via zodiac exploration - just seemed a good 'fit' for us being that we visited several ports that we had never been to before. If I go again, then, yeah, I'd plan on it being a bit more close-up and adventurous. 

 

Whatever you decide, I"m sure you'll have a fantastic trip!  

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On 2/11/2020 at 4:18 PM, lois1112 said:

I'm just back (yesterday) from my drive by cruise on the Coral Princess. I would say the drive by is enough and wonderful . I would do it again in a heartbeat. 

 

I can relate to this, since I share the thought of our drive-by as having been quite amazing, but I also agree with the expeditionary guests in that, comparatively speaking, it probably really isn't "enough" in terms of what CAN be experienced down there relative to what we got. It worked for us, but if I'd go back again, now having been to SA, I'd want to focus more on Antarctica. I will add that a disadvantage of the drive-by is that you really have so little time in Antarctica, so if the weather is bad while there, you get what you get, whereas with a smaller ship experience you have several days - increasing the chance of getting some really good visibility. I'm pleased, but it does sort of pull at me to go back down there again sometime. With my luck, though, I'd probably get "Drake shake" next time around rather than the "lake"!  

 

If I might ask, what were your ports of call on the Coral? 

Edited by OnTheJourney

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On 2/7/2020 at 8:46 PM, 2552phxcrzr said:

 

If you are more interested in the historic aspect, consider an expedition that goes to the Ross Sea.  We did a month-long trip with Oceanwide that was Ushuaia to New Zealand a few years ago.  Just being able to visit the historic huts of Scott and Shackleton was a highlight ... as was being able to helicopter into the Dry Valleys ... but of course we experienced so much more that it was worth every penny.  Not a luxury vessel, but open bridge policy and very comfortable cabins.  Absolutely no complaints.

 

I wrote an extensive blog, but have since made it private.  If you want to check it out, drop me a note (eerkun ... it’s a yahoo email address so format accordingly) and I will send you an invite to be able to view it.

We are going with Oceanwide Dec 2020 from Ushuaia to Antarctica on the Hondius-any tips for us?  Thank you!

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2 hours ago, 87hoya said:

We are going with Oceanwide Dec 2020 from Ushuaia to Antarctica on the Hondius-any tips for us?  Thank you!

 

Be prepared for changes to the itinerary as circumstances dictate.  Staying fluid and going with the flow is essential on an expedition style cruise.  Bundle up and spend time on the outdoor decks.  Layers, layers, layers ... with water and windproof outermost layer ... this is critical to being comfortable.  Leave the cotton tops and socks at home.  A pair of liner socks topped with wool socks and toe warmer pads (the kind that are activated by air and that you stick on the bottom of your top-most socks does wonders to keep tootsies warm.  Cold feet = being miserable = no fun.  Windproof hat and gloves ... I used liner gloves with thicker gloves  over them that were easily removable, which helped with being able to handle the camera.  If you use your smart phone for photography, make sure you have the right liner gloves that have special devices that allow you to keep your gloves on.  Don't worry about fancy clothes on the ship, even for the captain's welcome aboard.  Be prepared for rough seas if you are prone to seasickness.  The air-activated hand warmers are good when you are wandering around deck ... put one of them in an inside pocket with spare camera batteries ... the batteries won't drain as quickly.  On zodiac cruises, don't skimp on your layers ... because you are just sitting, you get colder faster ... especially since the bottom of the boat where your feet rest will be cold and that will eventually seep through shoes.  Don't skip out on landings and zodiac cruises ... do each and every one.  On shore, find a quiet corner and just sit and enjoy the ambiance of being in the polar region.  MOST IMPORTANT ... make each moment count.  It's a terrific part of the world.

 

I probably have a lot more thoughts, but these come to mind off the top of my head.  If you have specific questions, or if you would like to see the blog, send me an email at yahoo ... eerkun ... just format accordingly.

 

Here's the link to the 2007 Peninsula/Falklands/South Georgia review I wrote on CC.  I wrote the review in segments, so some of the things like clothing and gear might prove useful.  I don't recollect doing a review about the Oceanwide trip on CC.

 

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Thank you so much!  We have started devouring your posts-and the links work!  You are funny and informative-thank you very much!

Diane

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