Updated: Sep 13
Cruise south of the Antarctica Polar Circle. Check.
Cross paths with cute waddling penguins. Check.
Stride across frozen sea ice. Check.
Step foot on the White Continent. Check.
You can do this, too, on an Antarctica Expedition cruise!
The excitement began when we spotted small icebergs late on our second day, and then the Antarctica peninsula emerged in the distance. Lucho, Expedition Leader extraordinaire, announced over the intercom system, "Be outside, the views are spectacular,” and they were. It looked as if we were on another planet with infinite scenery like we had never seen before. The smooth sea changed to undulating slush, then to brash ice, a mosaic of ice sheets that were dotted with slumbering seals and lively penguins. Another announcement, “There’s a leopard seal port side!” On other days we saw massive icebergs larger than our ship and glacier-smothered craggy mountains as far as the eye could see. Passengers rushed to the bow, cameras and cell phones on the ready, when we heard “Orcas straight ahead!”
Antarctic Circle, here we come! Only a select number of passenger expedition ships can make it as far south as the Antarctic Circle. We chose one that could, and it was champagne for all as we cheered crossing this momentous latitude. Here we experienced 24 hours of sunshine. How strange it was to read “No Sunrise and No Sunset” on the daily program.
Venturing out onto frozen sea ice was on the agenda. The Resolution showed its brawn when it effortlessly plowed through frozen ocean and there it stayed so that passengers could walk out onto what is called "fast ice." The ice looks similar to a massive frozen lake because it is fastened to surrounding land. It was exhilarating and yet peaceful at the same time. I was in awe of nature as I stood in this very tranquil setting, reflecting on the picturesque panorama with a few seals and penguins in the distance. In case you are wondering, National Geographic Resolution's hull design, fuel-efficient robust engines and maneuverability easily got us out onto open seas again.
Penguins were ready for their close-up! Zodiacs ferried us to shore where we explored by foot over stony beaches and snowy hillsides where penguins make their homes. Those tuxedoed flightless birds waddled or tobogganed nearby as they made their way to and from the ocean. Fluffy Gentoo chicks were making strides towards fledging. Adelie penguins were maintaining their pebble nests with new arrivals safely tucked under a parent’s careful watch. When the little ones peeked out, we had fun catching the moments in photos. Chinstrap penguins must love a panoramic view because they make their nests high up in the hills, but we spotted many on rocks and icebergs. They reminded me of sentries looking out for danger, no doubt scanning the sea for their nemeses, leopard seals and orcas.
We checked out abandoned research centers in the middle of nowhere. I can’t imagine staying in such a remote, snow-covered location for months on end, but the views are awe-inspiring and the research important.
We toured scenic bays via Zodiac. The water was as smooth as glass where humpbacks dove into the depths to feed and energetic penguins porpoised like dolphins while feeding on krill. We got close to icebergs so massive they had anchored themselves to the bottom. Back on the Resolution, the expedition team uploaded whale tail photos to www.happywhale.com. HappyWhale matches photos to its database, so we were able to learn historical facts about whales we saw, which personalized our sightings.
Other ship activities were fun, too. The infinity hot tubs on the stern of the ship were relaxing while we gazed out at the amazing views through the glass side. It was dreamy to spend a night in the glass igloo on a warm cozy bed while looking out at 180-degree views. This experience is unique to National Geographic's two newest ships, the Endurance and Resolution. Brave souls yelled “Ahhh” as they jumped into the Southern Ocean for a Polar Plunge. Guests also paddled kayaks around to enjoy quiet seascapes on their own.
The knowledgeable expedition team kept our attention in the Ice Lounge with presentations about the history, geology, marine environment, and wildlife of this unique region of our planet. Undersea specialists showed us photos of sea stars and other creatures which live below the surface and discussed this region's life-giving plankton and krill.
Our taste buds went on a culinary journey. The cuisine was an epicurean delight with exemplary service. Meals were creative with flavors perfectly synchronized. We appreciate that almost all food is locally sourced and sustainable. Dining always came with views as restaurants have panoramic windows and there's heated al fresco dining, too.
Staterooms and public spaces check all the boxes of refined décor, comfort, and function. I recommend a balcony so that you don’t miss any scenery or critters. Public spaces include a spacious yoga studio, spa, saunas, library, and computer stations. Views were never missed with floor-to-ceiling windows in the lounges and ample outdoor space for unobstructed viewing and photography. A shout-out to our ship's hotel manager, Laura Fuentes, who went above and beyond in overseeing everyone's creature comforts.
Getting to the tip of South America where cruises depart involved lengthy flights, but this epic journey was worth it. We lucked out crossing the Drake Passage, as it wasn’t the "Drake Shake", more of a Goldilocks moderate sea when we started our journey in early January, and it was the “Drake Lake” during our return. I never expected to see hundreds of sea birds plus a few dolphins escort us while we cruised this vast sea.
Lindblad Expeditions partners with National Geographic for incredible journeys. We noticed how smoothly the ship handled rough conditions due to the X-Bow design and we learned that it could go faster through rough seas. Speed would certainly be beneficial during a turbulent Drake Passage crossing. We chose Lindblad Expeditions because they have the most experience in taking passengers to the White Continent. The Resolution and the Endurance ships have the highest ice-breaking capability of passenger ships (PC 5 Category A), GPS positioning without requiring an anchor, quick deployment of Zodiacs, and more state-of-the-art and eco-friendly features. So, you may think it’s all about engineering, but the ship has the creature comforts of a five-star hotel. The décor is elegant and modern. As you walk down the hall on Deck 8 your eyes land on an inviting black lacquered grand piano and then a fireplace surrounded by comfy seating. The entire experience scored a perfect 10. Thank you, Captain Martin Graser, and the entire staff and crew!
See my photo gallery of this trip here: https://joycehughesphotography.zenfoliosite.com/zg/antarctica
If you want advice on how to choose your travels, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.