We were on the Azamara Quest Antarctic cruise 13th January - 1 February 2013. It was a “bucket list” cruise and was our 4th cruise on Azamara and our 3rd on Quest. Our flight from Heathrow to Buenos Aires was uneventful. But then came the worst part, after collecting our luggage the queue for clearing customs was a 2 hour long snaking queue to put luggage through a scanner. We had Azamara transfers and a mini bus took us to our hotel, the Intercontinental. Short wait for our room and we had chance to refresh before our guide picked us up for walking tour we had organised with Buenos Tours. We were in room 1307 on 13th floor, good king size room. Despite emailing Azamara and asking were they providing any tours for the day there and a response saying , no. There was an Azamara hospitality desk and the agent there was offering both day and evening events!
Oliver our walking tour guide was waiting for us in the foyer, so we set off on our 4 hour walk. It was very hot, 30C. We walked through San Telmo, Monserrat, saw the key sites and had coffee and cake at Tortoni Cafe, opened in 1858 and now owned by the staff. Excellent guide and walking tour.
After arriving back at the hotel we got ready for our again self organised tango/dinner show at Piazolla Tango. We really enjoyed the show and and dinner.
After our included breakfast we were transferred to the ship and were on board within 20 mins of reaching the port. We handed in our hand luggage for delivery to our room and then went up to Windows for lunch. In Mosaic Ryzsard the hotel director came up and gave me a hug, he hasn't seen us since 2011, where else but on Azamara, other staff also recognised us and came to chat. We had the new Captain Stig Carlson who had transferred from RCI.
Russ, the CD, told us we were going to the Falklands, tender weather permitting.
The ship had been dry docked and has new carpets, furniture etc and is supposed to have a blue hull but it looks black to us. The new mattresses are very comfortable.
Our first port was Montevideo and here we hit a glitch, our tour tickets had been delivered to our stateroom the previous night but the tour time had been changed and we had been given the old tickets and meeting time. The staff didn’t apologise but put us on the Panoramic tour, which visited all key places but was considerably cheaper, the difference was refunded to our shipboard account. We were not sure what to expect in Montevideo but we felt it to be a really nice little city. Principal places of interest we visited included the Jewish Holocaust memorial,the bronze sculptures depicting a settlers wagon train and stagecoach and a memorial to sailors lost at sea. Additionally we passed the stadium venue of the first ever Football World Cup held in 1930. The residential area was well kept and the beaches good with lots of free activities. We called at a food market opposite the port where there were areas serving barbecue and drink called mid midi, half dry white wine, half sparkling wine. When we arrived back at the ship Ryszard was hard at work on the quayside supervising the loading of all the new deck furniture.
We now had 2 sea days and we went to a very interesting talk by Charles Richardson on Antarctic wildlife, overview of what we might see. Nigel Marvin was the other speaker on the cruise.
On our second day We saw whales from the window and Charles Richardson gave a lecture on the Falklands, followed by Nigel Marvin on Falklands wildlife.
The next day was our keenly anticipated visit to the Falkland Islands. We had booked a private tour to Volunteer Point with Patrick Watts with a number of others on our roll call. There were 4 of us in our off road vehicle plus the driver.
On the route to Volunteer Point all the key areas of the 1982 war were pointed out, Mount Harriet, Longden ,Two Sisters,and Tumbledown, we saw in the distance Port San Carlos and Fitzroy,(the attack on the Sir Galahad) . On the way to Johnsons Farm where the off road began we saw a burnt out Argentinian Chinook. The scenery is barren but beautiful, bog, deep pools, minefields! The minefields are being cleared for the land to be used again, because the land is boggy the mines could have moved from their original position. Johnsons Farm was set in a cove, the shearers were there shearing. Our driver told us about the economy of the islands, education, social life etc, a hospital which can cope with all but most serious cases.
The off road element was very bumpy and although only 7 miles took over an hour. Lovely pools, views of the scene, bog fern and a smaller plant called Diddle Dee which has red berries used to make jam. We saw Falklands Geese, Brent Geese and flightless steamer ducks. At Volunteer Point there were 3 types of penguin, Magellenic, Gentoo and King. All let you get really close, the Magellenic had burrows with babies in, the King babies were hard to see as they were protected by parents feet. Some larger babies were moulting they were last years chicks. After a while we walked down to the beach, pristine white sand, beautiful. Penguins were in and out of the water and we were lucky enough to see them skimming the waves. We spent 2 magical hours there. The weather was glorious. A warden patrols the area to ensure the penguins do not get too close as they have no fear. Apparently there was a seal there but we didn't see it. The journey back was over a different route and even rougher. We went on a drive around Port Stanley, we saw the Governors residence, all the official buildings, the hospital, the British War Memorial, a cenotaph and bronze plaque, beautifully kept, the Anglican Cathedral.
The next day was a sea day sailing through Drakes Passage on deck it was very blowy, but albatross were flying around the ship. Nigel's lecture was on Shackleton. The new show Voices was innovative and good.
Captain Stig and Captain Ole our ice captain who had joined in Buenos Aires gave an update on the ice position and weather. Fog and poor visibility expected which may affect Elephant Island views. Drake Passage was a lot calmer than expected, 10 ft swells.
The next day we were at Elephant Island Captain Stig announced about 8.00am that visibility was poor and the big iceberg in front of us would not be visible. Elephant Island viewing might also be difficult. However around 9.00am Elephant Island loomed through the fog then magically it gradually cleared and we had wonderful views. Chin strap penguins on an ice floe, a Blue Whale pod just swimming around the ship, a very rare sighting, penguins swimming in the water, fulmars, cape petrels, albatross. We saw the point on Elephant Island where Shackleton landed and also in the distance the point where his memorial is. The mist lifted and we could see the glaciers and peaks. Captain Stig turned the ship around so views were available from port and starboard. Charles Richardson and Captain Stig gave commentary from the bridge. Clarance Island loomed up through the mist off Elephant Island. We stayed in the area for over 2 hours. Staff came round with hot chocolate and rum or gluewein, asparagus soup was available in the Looking Glass. It was very cold and windy initially but warmed up slightly out of the wind.
We were to approach King George Island later that night, but ice conditions were variable.
Charles Richardson gave a very interesting talk at on Antarctica - the surprising desert.
During dinner Captain Stig slowed the ship so we could photograph icebergs with penguins on also little floes went past with penguins on, they were also swimming in the water.
Food on board was excellent during our cruise. We ate Dinner in Discoveries and decided on this occasion not to go to the speciality restaurants.
The next day was at sea in Antarctica,. Captain Stig woke us up early to say whale pods were off the ship, they were Orca, Finn and Blue. We quickly went on deck, we were off Trinity Peninsula and Trinity Island. Very cold but good views of whales and icebergs. After breakfast Captain Stig announced as the mist was so bad it was too dangerous to enter close to Deception Island so he sailed on and we had some brilliant sightings of icebergs, whales and penguins, plus hot chocolate with rum to keep warm. Penguins swimming again.
Two lectures, Charles on the Quest for the South Pole and Nigel on Our blubbery friends- Seals and fur seals. Lectures have been good.
Lots of whales around ship in the afternoon, you could see them blow then their fins /bodies cutting through the water. Captain Stig announced that lots of whales, humpbacks, around the bow of the ship. We were stationary for an hour + whilst the pod at least 5 strong circled and dived, ate krill and created bubble circles to trap the krill. Absolutely marvellous and a rare thing to see. The area was absolutely beautiful, snow/ice covered islands, icebergs, ice floes in weird and wonderful shapes and still tranquil seas.
Whilst we were having dinner going through the Gerlache Strait whales were going passed the window, penguins were jumping on ice floes and an ice berg tipped over, calved and tipped back again. Absolutely breathtaking scenery. Russ the CD did his show that night, excellent as always, whales were still going passed the windows.
The next day we were scheduled to be in Paradise Bay at 7.00am. We were up at 6.30 am and on deck by 7.00am, only 4 of us there it was cold and snowing. Icebergs all around. We saw whales, penguins, a seal. The MV Ushuaia was moored in the bay near the abandoned Argentinian Research Station Emarilla Brown and zodiacs were going from that ship to land. The ocean was 12000 feet deep here and was scattered with ice bergs, floes and shards. We saw whales, including one below the surface, by the side of the ship, this was a Minke whale, penguins swimming in the sea and on the ice, they were also doing their little jumping thing in the water. A seal on a floe. There was another research station in the distance. We were actually at the Antarctic continent not the archipelago. People from the MVP Ushuaia were taking inflatables and landing near the burnt out research station. One craft came to investigate us. The weather was beautiful for taking in the majestic scenery. Charles Richardson's talk on Wandering Antarctica was very interesting. Bad weather in Drake Passage had been forecast so Captain Stig set off earlier than planned hoping to make an earlier arrival in Drake Passage to avoid the worst of the expected bad weather. It was a little rougher now after 2 days of flat tranquil seas.
After dinner the sea much rougher, we went to the Danzare show which was good.
The next day was a sea day and Charles had a very good lecture on Why Ushuaia. The on board lectures have been the best we have ever experienced. The waves were about 3 meters and the ship was moving fast to avoid the bad weather. Lots of Cape Petrels around the ship in the morning. Nigel's lecture was on Penguins.
Just before dinner an alpha, alpha alert came on for crew, may have been a medical emergency. Seas had got a lot rougher in the passage during the day.
Kate Dowden,a classical/modern soprano, gave the show that night she was excellent and very professional considering she could hardly stand due to rough seas. Lots of things went crashing at the bar plus some tables & stools. The late show was cancelled due to weather. Captain Stig informed us the next morning that waves had been 8 metres and winds hurricane force. It was very rough until about 3.00am.
Our next port was Ushuaia, Captain Stig announced that coastguard had closed the port so we moored just off land. We spent the day and evening there. A real issue for the Captain as the ship needed to restock fuel, food, water etc. Obviously all tours were cancelled. It was very windy on deck but not too cold. Scenery in Beagle Channel was lovely and the peaks behind Ushuaia were snow covered. There were Royal Albatross flying around the ship. The guest artists were to disembark here and they had all missed flights and needed to get to other appointments in UK or Caribbean. Captain Stig has said we would not be going to Cape Horn the following day as weather forecast for winds was too bad. Ship still needed to restock urgent things like fuel, food, water. We were getting lots of credit on our account for all these cancelled tours, our Puerto Madryn tour was also cancelled due to lack of numbers. By evening the Captain was still not sure what was happening and we had a deadline of 2.00am to dock but port was still closed and promised abatement in wind had not happened, it was still 40 knots.
White Night went ahead in the Cabaret Lounge.
The next morning Captain Stig explained we could not stay in Ushuaia that day if we wanted to reach Puerto Madryn, It was 800 miles to Puerto Madryn so we would be going at full speed to do that anyway. Very apologetic but you cannot legislate for the weather. Captain Stig and Ryzsard were to do Q&A at 17.45 to explain why we hadn’t docked in Ushuaia. We did not refuel or restock in Ushuaia.
Charles gave a talk on the Atlantic where we learnt some really interesting facts. These lectures had been excellent. Nigel's talk was on Untamed China, this was about a series of programmes he had made on giant pandas.
At Captain Stig's talk a very vocal contingent were there who were obviously not happy. We thought he gave a fair and frank response and explained the facts in detail including the ships capabilities. Ushuaia had no tugs, the port authority had closed the port and the coastguard would not even let the local pilot off the ship. Winds were up to 40 knots and the ship can only safely cope with 20. The actual pressure increases exponentially to 43 tonnes on the side of the ship, I think I have remembered this correctly. At 2.00am he tried to dock but was hit by a 35 knot gust and aborted the attempt. All the prepaid food and fuel was left in Ushuaia. We have enough fuel to reach Buenos Aires, with 1.5 days supply to spare, Ryzsard said he would try to replace some of the fresh food stuffs in Puerto Madryn, lettuce, berries etc. also hopefully some fuel.
Someone asked how bad the winds were when we went to Cape Horn on Thursday night, they were 102 knots high and 60 + miles per hour, hurricanes force. These winds may occur once each month in the summer.
Another question was about how far you had to stay away from icebergs and the answer was to stay a distance of at least double their height.
Andrew and Elaine the lead singers performed solo pieces at the show that night, they were very good.
Another sea day and it was the Iron Man cooking competition in Cabaret, Ryzsard the HD and Nikki, Guest Relations Manager who stood in for Russ who was ill, They were supported by some of our fellow cruisers. Ryzsard won. He is extremely popular.
Charles's talk was on Who discovered America, very interesting as usual. The show that night was DJ Alex Mac's tribute to Michael Buble, an excellent show he can really sing and has a very good personality the audience loved him.
Our final port before Buenos Aires was Puerto Madryn, settled by the Welsh. Our tour here was cancelled due to low numbers. Everyone even the crew just wanted to get ashore after 8 days at sea. Captain Stig announced high winds but they were hoping to tender ashore. In the end the wind dropped and we docked and were cleared to go ashore about 11.00am. After a pleasant though hot walk around the port we reboarded the ship for lunch. In the afternoon we saw a brown sea lion swimming just under the veranda it was quite fat but very graceful, it came up for air just in front of us. It was the guest and crew talent show that night. At the end the choir recruited during the cruise from guests and conducted by Andrew sang an Andrew Loyd Weber medley, they were very good, 42 people had joined the choir. A good and innovative evening.
Another sea day. Charles's lecture was on on Charles Darwin which was very good. Show was Waves with Captain Stig and crew followed by the cast in a tribute to Broadway featuring Russ. Captain Stig made a good speech and the Broadway show was good. The shows this cruise have been better and the cast have better voices.
Our last sea day and Charles's lecture was on Argentina:dinosaurs to tango. It was interesting.
Show that night was violinist Isabella Dembroska who we had seen before and she was very good.
The next day we disembarked just after 7.00am, Ryzsard and Russ there to say goodbye. At the airport there were no checks on liquids bottles of water. Aircraft interior was sprayed with insecticide before we left EZE. One piece of our hand Luggage sprayed at Heathrow too.
A very enjoyable cruise. Fantastic scenery and wildlife. Good food on board and as usual we felt that we had come home on boarding Quest.