It's just past midnight, and I'm on a shuttle bus traveling on a winding road in Argentina, not really sure what's next for me.
It's dark out, save for a few lights visible around the harbor. Turns out, I'm stranded at the end of the world.
OK, so it sounds a little dramatic. But it kind of feels like it is.
I know from too many experiences that when it comes to travel, you will be in a better state of mind if you stick to three simple pillars.
Hope for the best.
Plan for the worst.
Be delighted if it all meets somewhere in the middle.
This is even more important to keep in mind as we travel during the time of a pandemic.
Such was the case for my much-anticipated expedition to Antarctica.
Here's a little story about the start of my trip. I was joined by my younger brother Bart, and I'll detail later in this post all the reasons why it was fantastic to share this epic adventure with him.
However, our cruise to the White Continent with Atlas Ocean Voyages faced a real threat of being over before it even started when three cases of COVID were recorded on the sailing just ahead of mine.
For Atlas' inaugural Antarctica season, the line brought passengers to Ushuaia, Argentina, to meet World Navigator via a private charter flight originating in Orlando. Bart and I joined the other cruisers in our group at the airport to check in and take our pre-trip COVID tests.
This was followed by a nice reception with snacks, drinks and live music performances. The energy was high as we mingled and met others excited to go on an adventure to Antarctica. This would be my second time there and Bart's first. I was really pumped to be going with him, and I kept telling Bart how much fun we were sure to have.
All was proceeding pretty smoothly so far. We boarded the plane in the evening, settled in our seats, enjoyed a couple celebratory beers and a meal onboard before trying to get a little sleep.
Before I continue our story, I want to recommend an excellent Packing List for a Cruise to Antarctica created by our friends at Sometimes Sailing.
We woke up in the early morning as we touched down in Ushuaia, known as the southernmost city in the world.
With anticipation building and a few hours of touring the city ahead of us, we expected to be on the ship by late afternoon. We knew that the logistics are a little tricky to get the prior cruise passengers off and the ship ready for us, so a city tour of Ushuaia and a lunch break makes sense. However, 16 hours later, things didn't look good.
We are heading to a hotel, a 30-minute bus ride from the port.
I am sure that our trip is off.
We'll get an update in the morning, an Atlas Ocean Voyages' representative says. Bart is still hopeful.
We arrived to Ushuaia with about 85 passengers. World Navigator can hold up to 196 cruisers but is sailing at a reduced capacity like almost every other ship in the world during the pandemic.
Three buses are used to take our group of visitors around the city during the morning, exploring scenic points along the Beagle Channel and stopping at a restaurant for a hearty lunch. People are having a nice time getting to learn about each other, chatting about where they are from and discussing how they picked Atlas and their excitement about getting to Antarctica finally. It's a huge travel goal for most.
After lunch and a couple more stops around the city, people are starting to wonder when we will be able to board the cruise ship. It's late afternoon when our buses arrive to the Ushuaia sign down by the port and we stop for the photo opportunity, thinking it's a fitting cap to our tour before we get on World Navigator.
However, as the buses pull through the gate at the pier, our ship in view just a hundred yards away, I get the distinct feeling that plans are being shuffled on the fly. We are not boarding just yet. Instead, we are taking a dinner cruise in the channel, using a nearby restaurant catamaran.
OK. Could be fun. It seems that the process of flipping the ship and getting it ready for us is taking a little longer than expected. I am used to these types of delays happening in the age of COVID, of course.
Others are starting to wonder aloud what is going on, though, as we are not receiving clear communication about our schedule of events. We have a dinner and then enjoy a cruise on the channel, spotting a large colony of cormorants and visiting a large group of sea lions gathered on a promontory.
Drinks are flowing and people are having a good time and mostly being patient as the wait drags on. Finally, we get word that there is no certain timeline for our embarkation. It turns out that some crew tested positive for COVID.
The mood turns sour as we start to feel trapped on this catamaran, not knowing whether the trip will take place and what the next steps might be. Bart and I play cards with new friends and calmly wait for more info. Others are getting clearly agitated. Maybe all. The open bar for several hours probably isn't helping.
Finally, we get word that we will be heading to hotels for the night to await further updates in the morning on the fate of our voyage.
Bart and I head to our room at our resort. We open the door and find that the heater has been working overtime in here. We turn it off and crack open the windows to try to get some relief. It's got to be more than 90 degrees in here.
"Of course, this is how this day ends," I say, as we lay down and try to get some sleep.
We spend the day enjoying the resort and going for a hike along the shoreline. The day offers the most incredible weather in late spring down here at the very tip of South America.
After lunch and session at the gym, we finally get a message. It's spectacular news: The cruise will happen!
We are told to meet the transfer bus outside the hotel around 7 p.m. to head to the ship. Bart had remained upbeat and hopeful the whole time, while I was more inclined to think the trip was lost.
I'm so glad his positive-thinking powers worked. The upbeat energy was back, as we checked in with our fellow cruisers in the Atlas Lounge on World Navigator, meeting the crew members and having a cursory tour of the ship.
Well, the story is that the Argentinian authorities were eventually satisfied with the process to get off the crew who had tested positive and to effectively clean the ship, allowing us to sail and lose just one day.
Atlas Ocean Voyages made it up to cruisers by refunding 10 percent from the cost of this trip plus offering a future cruise credit worth 50 percent of the fare paid for this voyage as well as free Internet during our cruise and $100 onboard credit for our sailing. Many of our fellow passengers told me that they considered this a fair deal, and the main thing they were happy with was being able to continue this journey.
It turned out to be an incredible adventure. We lost just half a day, overall, because of calm sea conditions through the infamous Drake Passage. In retrospect, I was happy to be able to spend a day in Ushuaia relaxing and recovering after an exhausting day of travel the day before. It also gave me a chance to soak in the incredible scenery and enjoy an invigorating hike.
I have a full recounting of this Antarctica cruise with Atlas Ocean Voyages on the new World Navigator available by checking out my video features (trip video and balcony stateroom tour below). Thanks for watching these, and please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel.
Precious Time Together
Bart is my only sibling. He is two years younger and lives in Florida, while I live in Colorado. We don't get to see one another as often as I'd like, so this was an amazing chance to go on an epic trip together. I travel a lot and he hasn't been too many places outside of the United States, so it was also a thrill to see his joy of traveling to such an exotic destination.
Our daily activities included rushing out to the balcony or outer decks each day to see what the views were like as we cruised through the Drake Passage and among the islands and channels around the Antarctic Peninsula.
We would strap on our warm-weather gear and boots, hop into a Zodiac for another excursion, and it was all amazing.
The trip also allowed us to celebrate his recent retirement from decades as an educator. The crew on World Navigator helped me surprise Bart with a cake during one of our dinners.
We savored bar time with beer flights and hanging with new friends in the lounges listening to music, watching the 11 p.m. sunsets and playing games. Plus, you can't beat the hot tub time as snow is falling all around us while our ship sails past beautiful mountains, glaciers and icebergs.
The wildlife is always a highlight of these trips to Antarctica. And the penguins are the stars of the show. We certainly got our fill, seeing gentoos, chinstraps and a few adelies. We also go to see numerous birds, such as albatrosses, petrels, skuas and shags.
Another highlight: the Polar Plunge. We joined dozens of fellow cruisers who took an invigorating dip into the 29-degree waters of the Lemaire Channel.
As you can see here, the voyage turned into a truly special experience, almost everything we could have wanted out of a journey to Antarctica.
And even if it had been short-circuited in Ushuaia, I still would have had a good story to tell and some memorable moments with my brother.
Thanks for reading,