Majestic landscapes, extraordinary wildlife and surreal remoteness: regardless of where you have previously travelled, Antarctica is different from anything else you will experience.
Day 1, Ushuaia:
My ten-night journey began in Ushuaia, Argentina, a port city which remains the most popular starting and finishing point of many cruises. All Polar Latitudes' Ushuaia departures begin with a complimentary overnight stay at Arakur Resort and Spa, located on a beautiful ridge inside Cerro Alarkén Nature Reserve offering breathtaking views and sophisticated décor. Highlights in the area include Argentinean leather markets, award-winning museums and the nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park, blessed with popular trekking paths and charming scenery.
Day 2, Embarkation:
After boarding the Polar Latitudes' Hebridean Sky ship in the afternoon, we were warmly welcomed by the Expedition Team and the ship's officers. Following a safety and orientation briefing, we had a few hours to relax and explore the ship, until the evening's welcome dinner, hosted by the Captain. Having undergone a multi-million-dollar refurbishment, on-board facilities were impeccable as expected. All-suite accommodation offers stunning exterior views, a sitting area with sofa, a flat screen TV and a sumptuous, marble-appointed bathroom. Food-wise, world-class chefs offer daily-changing breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, 24-hour self-service tea and coffee stations are available, and Afternoon Tea is served daily. There is also a Panoramic Top Deck Observation Platform offering unparalleled 360-degree views, a lounge with computers and audiovisual facilities, plus a DVD Movie Library.
Day 3-4, Drake Passage:
Named after renowned explorer, Sir Francis Drake, who sailed these waters in 1578, Drake Passage is where the Atlantic meets the Pacific Ocean and its waters are known for being rough - swells and waves can be as high as 15 metres. We were fortunate in that we only experienced around seven meters, but it still meant half of the ship suffered with sea sickness, so make sure to pack tablets if this is something you suffer with. The crossing usually takes 48 hours, depending on weather and many travellers consider the crossing as rite of passage to reach Antarctica - the world's last pristine wilderness.
During the passage crossing you cannot depart the ship, however there are still plenty of wildlife-spotting opportunities. Prepare your binoculars and cameras as Albatrosses, Prions and Petrels circle overhead and gargantuan icebergs appear on the horizon whilst sailing towards the Shetland Islands. As Antarctica contains 90% of all the Earth's ice, huge skyscraper-sized shards are not uncommon on the journey towards the Peninsula. The hardworking expedition crew are also busy keeping guests occupied during the crossing, with morning and afternoon lectures and introductions to the Citizen Science project, an important initiative allowing guests to contribute data and images that support important research projects in five major disciplines: - Oceanography, Glaciology, Ornithology, Marine Biology and Meteorology.
Day 5-9, Antarctica:
Once you arrive in this ice-crowned wonder, the feeling of being a small speck in such a vast, harshly beautiful continent, is indescribable.
As the coldest, windiest and driest continent, life in Antarctica is dynamic and daily programmes and shore landings are adapted to fit the weather conditions of the day. A normal morning would begin with a wake-up call around 7am, followed by breakfast at 8am, during which time the expedition team are busy setting up the Zodiac boats (motor-powered dinghies), ready for our shore landings. Daily activities may vary, however traversing glistening inlets and channels of the Peninsula, stopping at penguin rookeries, seal wallows, bird colonies and whale-feeding areas and visiting historic research sites are usually on the itinerary. Noteworthy sites include active scientific bases, a historic British research camp preserved as it was decades ago, and the Penguin post office at Port Lockroy, where you will receive a stamp in your passport and may buy postcards for friends and family. Guests are permitted to stay on-shore for roughly two to three hours at a time, and the zodiacs are on-hand to ferry people back to the boat, should they wish to retire early. In the afternoon after lunch, there are likely to be more Zodiac cruises, along with hiking, snowshoeing and kayaking opportunities and even camp-outs on the ice, depending on how much or how little you have signed up for.
Camping on the ice
Of course, Antarctica is also perfect for wildlife-lovers. Charismatic penguins are the stars of the show - seven species reside in the area, including Adélie, Chinstrap, Gentoo, Rockhopper and Macaroni, as well as the orange-striped King and majestic Emperor. As they have never had any land predators, penguins can be incredibly tame and have been known to hop over and inspect humans. Hours can be spent observing these endearing and frequently comical flightless birds, even walking amongst their colonies. Seals are also in abundance - six different species live in Antarctic waters: Ross, Weddell, Crabeater, Leopard, Fur and Elephant Seals, with their harems and pups. You're likely to see Fin, Humpback, Minke, Orca and Blue Whales too, which feed on the swarms of Southern Ocean krill, as well as many species of birds who nest amongst the craggy crevasses.
After a day of adventure, it's back to the ship around 6pm for a quick shower and recap in the lounge with canapés, before a delicious dinner at 7pm. We felt privileged to dine with the Expedition Team and members of the Crew, who were so enthusiastic about their individual fields, always willing to share their knowledge and who worked hard every day. Following dinner, guests may wish to retire to their suites, listen to live music in the lounge or join fellow guests on the outside decks, for more wildlife and star-gazing opportunities.
Day 10-12, Drake Passage & Ushuaia disembarkation
The presentations and wildlife-sightings continued as we sailed back to Ushuaia, reflecting on beautiful Antarctica and its fragile future, and processing the adventures and unimaginable beauty that had truly exceeded our expectations.
The final day's morning disembarkation allows you to catch a flight to Buenos Aires, or stay in Ushuaia for more sights and adventure.
Expeditions take place between November and March. This journey is based on The Antarctic Peninsula with Polar Latitudes. For more information on our Luxury Cruises, please call our expert Travel Consultants. For more information, please visit our Antarctica section.