This is the third part in a four-part series of posts on my cruise to Antarctica with Albatros Expeditions on the Ocean Victory cruise ship.
Read Part One: Embarkation Day in Ushuaia
Read Part Two: Crossing the Drake Passage
Read Part Four: A Big Finish and My Final Thoughts
Also, check out my video showing you cruise packing tips and your gear guide for an expedition cruise to Antarctica.
Video: Antarctica Activities and Packing for Your Cruise
Where We Were
The fourth day of the voyage brought us to Enterprise Island and Foyn Harbor for our morning stop. In the afternoon, Ocean Victory transited to Charlotte Bay and Portal Point, where we set foot on the continent of Antarctica for the first time during this sailing.
The weather was stunningly perfect, with the shining sun and mostly blue skies offering an incredible backdrop to the numerous bobbing icebergs, growlers and bergy bits floating in the channels and harbors that we navigated during a busy day.
For the shore landings, this is how it works. The Albatros expedition team takes us ashore in Zodiacs at each of our landing sites. The team goes ashore before we arrive and stakes out areas that are safe to walk and places flags to let us know our boundaries. This allows us to visit safely while also keeping our distance from the animals so we don't stress them out too much.
The penguins are busy nesting and mating this time of year, and we saw the first eggs being tenderly cared for as mother and father penguins traded off duties of watching the egg and going out to the waters to feed.
What We Did
Albatros offers programs for kayaking, snowshoeing and overnight camping. I chatted with a several fellow cruisers who were excited to do it all. "You only come here once," said my new friend Manuel, who lives in Chicago and was kind enough to be my kayaking partner in Foyn Harbor for the day.
I stuck with kayaking as my one premium excursion, and we went in ideal conditions, paddling easily through glassy waters. Guides take out 10 people at a time in five two-person kayaks, and a lottery is used to pick the group order for who goes first. This is done because there might be only one or two days with nice enough weather conditions to allow kayaking -- and demand for the kayaking excursions is pretty high.
Our voyage offered everyone a chance to go out, though, because the weather was fantastic and the waters plenty safe for paddling.
There are daily Zodiac cruises that pair with the landings, as the four groups swap off (regulations allow just 100 people ashore on land at a time). We had a spectacular barbecue on the top deck in the sunshine, and we were surrounded by the glorious steep white peaks on each side of the vessel as we sailed away from Paradise Cove (more on this lunch in the bottom section of this post).
They said they loved the pristine solitude, with the sounds of cracking ice and the snores of fellow campers as the only things breaking the silence. Many didn't sleep much, but most said it was worth doing one time. Some said they saw sea lions lolling about on shore, as well. It's mostly about bragging rights to say that you slept on an island in Antarctica. This experience costs $350.
The post office is popular, as visitors love to send postcards around the world from there. It handles more than 70,000 pieces of mail a year. I dropped in a card that costs one British pound to send anywhere throughout the world. It goes by ship to the Falkland Islands, then to England to enter the British Mail Service before getting sent on to its final destination. I was told the process can take anywhere from two weeks to several months.
What We Saw
Aside from the humpbacks and a few penguins in the waters during our kayaking session, there were always hundreds to thousands of penguins on land in each place. The Zodiac tours also revealed sightings of leopard seals and Weddell seals. Of course, there were always incredible ice formations, with a range of brash ice, sea ice, bergy bits, growlers and icebergs in the waters, as well as glaciers coming down the valleys on some islands.
Around Port Lockroy, we got a couple unique sightings. In the bay, a large brown petrel was snacking on a dead penguin. I asked Albatros ornithologist Ab Steenvoorden, who is from the Netherlands, how the penguin might have been killed, curious as to whether the petrel could have done that. Ab told me that it was likely that the penguin died from injuries from an attack from a leopard seal and that the petrel was just finishing off the remains. A fascinating look at life in the wild, indeed.
During a Zodiac cruise around the island, we also came upon four large Weddell seals (known for their gray fur and sweet round eyes) who were resting on an iceberg.
The ship features two restaurants. The main Beagle Restaurant serves buffet breakfasts and lunches, as well as plated dinners with full menus. It also has the Panorama restaurant up top on Deck 8 that offers buffet breakfasts and lunches. But for dinner, it becomes the Hot Rocks experience where you cook your own meat on a superheated lava rock. You can choose, sirloin steak, pork tenderloin, lamb chops, salmon and tuna. And you get a full range of sides, soups and appetizers.
I dined at Hot Rocks twice over the course of a few days because it's so good.
We had marvelous weather conditions, and Paradise Bay provided a great backdrop for our on-deck barbecue. Chefs grilled up ribs, chicken, a full pig, brats, burgers, hot dogs and fish.
Plates were filled with meats and the numerous sides placed out on tables around the deck, and cruisers joined tables and loungers or grabbed spots just inside at the Panorama Restaurant to fill up on the great food while taking in the awesome scenery.
Thanks for reading,