I'm back in Antarctica for my third expedition. It's a little different each time -- but always amazing. On this trip, I'm on a voyage in early December with Albatros Expeditions, and I'm sailing on the 186-passenger Ocean Victory. It's a new expedition ship that I have sailed before in Alaska with American Queen Voyages.
Albatros uses the ship for the Antarctic season, and this series of posts will show you just how a cruise to Antarctica can unfold day by day. You will get a general idea about what you might see: There are penguins, seabirds and seals, of course, as well as plenty of icebergs and stunning natural landscapes.
But each trip is filled with surprises, and every company that brings travelers here has its own unique program and expedition guides.
Here's what we did with Albatros this time in Antarctica. One thing to note: The only thing you can usually count on is turbulent weather surprising you with something each day, so you have to set expectations for that. Our group of 166 cruisers, though, was extremely blessed by the most beautiful weather during our whole time in Antarctica, not something I would have ever counted on.
Sometimes, the White Continent can offer days filled with sunshine, calm winds and blue skies -- and that is a pleasant surprise, indeed.
Where We Were
I flew into Ushuaia a day ahead of the cruise. This is always recommended so that you have plenty of time to relax and refresh after the long journey to the End of the World. Coming in a day or two ahead of your embarkation also eliminates the chance of you missing the ship if you have a problem with any of your flights because of delays, etc.
I had an overnight stay at the Hotel Albatros. (A coincidental name but with no relation to Albatros Expeditions.)
I did a little shopping and had a lunch with a nice Sir Francis Drake red IPA craft beer before heading to the pickup point for the shuttle bus to board Ocean Victory.
The Beagle Channel: The Beagle Channel is a strait in the Tierra Del Fuego region of South America that includes parts of Chile and Argentina, separating the two countries at the very southern tip of the continent. The first part of the cruise night navigates this channel as it leads away from Ushuaia and passes another port area, Puerto Williams in Chile, on the way to the Drake Passage, which is a notorious and often turbulent stretch of sea that takes about two days to cross before reaching the Antarctic Peninsula.
This was a day to get familiarized with the ship. Ocean Victory is eight decks high and offers a pair of restaurants, observation lounge, main lounge, bar areas, a small library, gym, spa and outer decks with a pool and two hot tubs.
Check in went smoothly, as we registered credit cards for expenses throughout the trip. Items like drinks, spa treatments and internet packages come with additional fees. We also had a series of safety briefings and a muster drill. Our expedition team leader Phil Hunter introduced us to the rest of the expedition staff, and we got an overview of what we can expect during our voyage.
Albatros offers kayaking and snowshoeing in its program for Antarctica. I'm especially excited for this because I have been to this place two other times but never had the chance to do much more than the shore walks and Zodiac tours. This would be great if the weather conditions allow us to go out in the kayaks and trek through the snow to see this place.
"This is not a cruise," Hunter said. "This is an expedition."
There was a definite air of excitement, as this was the first time to Antarctica for nearly every passenger on the ship (we had 166 passengers on this sailing). I met several people, and the mix is very international. There were 18 nationalities represented, with travelers coming from Canada, Germany, Argentina, Japan, Thailand, Switzerland and the Netherlands, among many others.
After dinner, the crew held a "Parka Party" to hand out the much-needed warm outer jackets that we will wear out on our excursions each day. Albatros provides the parkas that are yours to keep, or passengers can choose to return them to be cleaned and recycled at the end of the voyage. They do add a lot of bulk to your luggage and probably will be plenty stinky after spending more than a week around penguins.
What We Saw
We had calm waters through the Beagle Channel and only mild waves (relatively) during our first night in the Drake Passage. Waves topped out around 10 feet, so there was movement, for sure, but definitely classified as a smooth ride for the Drake. Sunset is about 10 p.m. this time of year during austral summer.
What I Ate
A buffet-style dinner was served on this first night. This was to save a little time as we had so many briefings and activities to get us prepared for our time in Antarctica. Ocean Victory and Albatros offer a plated a la carte-style formal dining experience on all other nights during your Antarctica cruise.
Thanks for reading,
Read Part Two: Crossing the Drake Passage
Read Part Three: Out For Plenty of Adventures; What to Pack
Read Part Four: A Big Finish and My Final Thoughts