Overview – This was a cruise to the Antarctic so the life on board the ship was catered to the location we were heading. Our trip with Compagnie de Ponant started with a chartered flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina. We were met at the airport by a cruise representative at check-in. The airport was chaos and people crowded to get in line for boarding the plane. When we got to Ushuaia we were met by a tour guide and boarded a bus which was to give us an abbreviated tour of the national park and lunch. Since the flight had been delayed we headed straight for lunch at a lodge which was very rustic and nice. The meal was roasted lamb and potatoes, with a salad bar and dessert and drink. The bus had both French and English speaking passengers and our guide gave all information in both languages. We then went to the ship to head on board. As we were waiting in line to board several of the crew came out and took our hand luggage to carry on for us. Check in for the cruise was very easy. A picture of us was taken and we were given our cabin card and on to our cabin. Our luggage was already there. This cruise had a majority of English speaking passengers, and then groups of French, Japanese and Chinese speaking. All shipboard announcements were given in both French and English. Of course the safety drill was held the first evening with excellent instructions that made me feel I would know what to do.
We had a great time on the cruise and the ship and staff helped make our cruise great.
Cabins – We were on Deck 4. The room had TV, nice bed and bathroom, balcony and plenty of closest space. There was a table and only one chair. There was an ottoman but this was stored under the countertop. After a couple of days our cabin attendant moved a balcony chair in so we had two chairs. Since we were in Antarctica, there was no TV reception but a selection of movies was available. Current/updated information about landings etc was also posted on the TV since the schedule could quickly change depending on weather conditions.
Dining – There are two locations for dining – the buffet on Deck 6 and the restaurant on Deck 2 and there was also room service. The buffet and restaurant had basically the same menu and were opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day except the two formal dinner evenings. On those evenings, dinner was only served in the restaurant. A small room service menu was available all days that also included much of the day’s menu items. There was a good selection each day, including a vegetarian selection and there were always a few standard items: chicken breast, hamburger or rib eye steak. Most lunches in the restaurant included a soup and salad bar and a dessert table that were self-service and the entre was ordered from your waiter. The buffet was mostly self-service but many times, a crew member would help carry your selection for you and if something was being prepared for you, would bring it to you. The food was very good and many people especially complemented the soups. We had room service bring coffee every morning and one evening during some rough seas (and a formal dinner) we ordered a light dinner. There were two bars, the Observation Lounge on Deck 6 and the Main Lounge on Deck 3. While the Main Lounge seemed to be open all day, starting with coffee and continental breakfast at 6am, the Observation Lounge opened for a couple hours before dinner and closed for an hour in the evening before reopening.
Activities – All activities centered on getting to Antarctica and the landings. There were at least 10 naturists on board with different specialties. Since this cruise had a majority of English speaking passengers, the enrichment lectures were held in English in the theater. There were French lectures in the main lounge. We had enrichment lectures on the sea days during the crossings of Drake Passage each way. They ranged from topics of penguins, ice, whales, geology and climate change. Also during this crossing we had a mandatory briefing on getting in and out of the zodiacs and the restrictions needed to protect the Antarctica. The schedule called for 5 days of landings but the crossing of Drake Passage on our way to Antarctica was very smooth and we made an additional stop on South Shetland at the end of the crossing. For the five days, two landings or zodiac cruises were scheduled for each day and what we could see was different each time. There 198 passengers on board and we were divided into 4 groups for the landings, with the order rotated for each landing. The landing locations were in a different order than the initial plan (which we were told could change at any time). At each landing there were naturalists available to explain what was to be seen and answer any questions. One day, the ship had to change what was planned due to more sea ice than expected. With all the sea ice, a landing was planned for a walk on an ice floe. About half way through this landing, so much ice had blown in that the zodiacs could not leave the landing area and it took over 2 hours to get the people back on board. The Captain and Expedition Leader then selected another ice floe to continue the landings. The naturalists were always available to help us get the most of each landing. Our return crossing of the Drake Passage was not as smooth s our first crossing. There was crew deployed at each elevator landing and motion sick bags throughout the ship making sure passengers had help if needed.
Entertainment – There was a show most evenings in the theater but I could not stay up late enough to go to them.
To sum up our experience we thoroughly enjoyed both the destination and the ship. All of the staff and crew we met were extremely attentive to our needs. The food on board was very good with a good selection, however it was difficult to get a hamburger that was well done. My only complaint was the handling of crowded chaos such as at the airport and when we needed to get our landing color sticker put on our cabin card.