Antarctica was a dream destination for us when we were initially planning our South America trip. It was high on both of our bucket lists and was the only continent Brandon had yet to visit. We figured there would be no better time than this trip to be able to travel down there, as we had complete flexibility on time. We initially planned on traveling down to Ushuaia at the END of our trip in late January, and trying to get whatever last minute deal we could find. Mentally, we were prepared for a pretty bare-bones accommodation and ship. However, we ended up lucking out and grabbing a 50% discount on a luxury cruise that was set to leave the first week of November. We had contacted a travel agent in Ushuaia (while we were in Bolivia) to let us know about any sales or last minute deals and she sent us one right before (literally minutes before) our jeep tour of southern Bolivia back in September. The deal was too good to be true so we jumped on it right away and sent her our credit card info and hoped it would all go through. Given the timing and the fact that we were about to be in the middle of nowhere in Southwest Bolivia with no internet for four days, we weren’t optimistic that everything was going to work out. But as soon as the tour ended we checked our email and we were confirmed!
The cruise was billed as 12 days, but the first day was just staying in a hotel in Ushuaia and the last day we were back in Ushuaia by 8 am, so it was really only 10 days of cruising. The ship we sailed on was called the Sea Spirit and it was pretty small – only 114 passengers. This was ideal as there are limits on the number of people that can be on land at a given site at a time. It was really, really nice and the food was great – buffets for breakfast and lunch and then a 4 course dinner every night. And it had an open bar (with bottomless cookie jars)! We were in a “superior suite” and it was soooo nice after staying in cheap hostels for months.
We spent the first 2 days of the cruise sailing through the Drake Passage to Antarctica. The Drake is notorious for bad weather and rough water because it is where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. The weather out was apparently pretty good – although we both ended up getting sick and spending a lot of time in the cabin. We weren’t the only ones though! When we got up for breakfast the first day, there were empty bags lining all the hand rails around the ship just in case someone needed one fast (which I did later that morning).
In the Drake we obviously couldn’t get off the ship so the expedition staff gave presentations. The staff was really great and had experts on all things Antarctica. There were glacier, sea mammal, bird and history experts. So before (and on the trip back) we learned about what we were going to see (or had seen). The talks were great and really interesting.
After 2 days of rough waters and not much to see (besides albatrosses) we were really excited to finally see land!
When we were actually in Antarctica for 5 and a half days, each of those days we typically did 2 excursions. The excursions were taking a Zodiac (small boat) to land and exploring, doing a cruise on a Zodiac around an area or doing a combo of a Zodiac cruise and a landing. We were the first cruise of the season so even though the expedition staff had plans everyday for us, they never quite knew what was awaiting us as we went to different areas around the Antarctic Peninsula.
The landscape was absolutely beautiful and everyday we saw glaciers, icebergs and snow-covered mountains.
Make sure to look at the next post for all our penguin, whale and seal pictures!