Actually, I was a lot more impressed with the trip than I thought I was going to be. It was a super great voyage. There were a lot of folk really into spending time on deck and taking in the marine life. And the biologists Princess provided were super and spent countless hours with everybody. I know The "birders" were in all their glory. Albatross everywhere.
We had to cough up $131.00 each in Buenos Aires. We found out though this is a fee for Argentina and is good for ten years. Like we will be going back again soon. Anyway, We paid out $459 dollars for port and government fees plus the $262.00 for Argentina. I'm not certain, but since we stopped in Punta Arenas maybe we had to pay that $100. each, for Chile. Anyway, those who complain about Alaska's $50.00 head charge are simply not paying attention.
Thursday, (January 14th) to Seattle, Friday to Buenos Aires, Argentina via Houston on Continental. Saturday afternoon we boarded the Star Princess for 16 days. For a voyage directly to Antarctica, 4 days cruising in and around Antarctica, then back up the coast all around Cape Horn and into the Beagle Channel making stops at Ushuaia Argentina, Punta Arenas, Chile, then out the Strait of Magellan into the Atlantic cruising on out to the Falkland Islands, then north to Montevideo in Uruguay, then back to Buenos Aires and then fly home via, Santiago de Chile, Los Angeles, Seattle, then home late Feb. 4th.
On the sea we traveled a total of 5503.9 statute miles.
Princess Cruise line has a promotional film out for the Antarctic. It starts with something that goes like this: "Imagine a place where time ceased to exist, a place of unspoiled and unforgiving beauty. A place of quiet. Where peace is everywhere. Imagine no more. The Frozen Continent."
That pretty much sums up what we witnessed down there.
The Star Princess. In 2002, when new, this was the largest passenger vessel in the world. However, it is quite a ways down the list now. 109,000 gross tons, 950 ft long, 118 ft wide, max speed 23.3 knots, cruise speed 21 knots, 3100 passengers max (we had 2600) plus a crew of 1200. But I did notice that their deck layout schematic is goofed up, so is my Berlitz guide to cruising with respect to the "Star". But then, my guide is 2007. Fortunately for us, the mistakes worked in our favor, we were on the Caribe deck in a balcony cabin. Except, our balcony was twice the size of those on any other deck as far as regular cabin or mini suite cabins go. The balconies on the Caribe were twice as large as those on the Dolphin deck, and the Dolphin deck has all the mini suites. The mini suites were just like ours except they cut the balcony in half and extended the room onto the cut our portion. Most full suites were all on our deck, and all they simply involved was two regular cabins with balcony's, like ours, with the wall removed. Berlitz says you can see down onto the Caribe full suite balconies from above. Not true, half the area of those balconies have a roof.
Quite a mix of nationalities on board. Us Yankees were about 45%. I like it that way, gives one exposure to what others think and do. Unfortunately, we don't all speak the same language. There were a lot of South Americans on board as well. The cruise lines have resorted to really cutting rates in order to fill the ships.
Another nice thing, the crowd was much younger than we are used to. As we get longer in the tooth we tend to become more curmudgeonish. The Star was by far the largest ship we have ever been on. Almost three times the size of the Titanic. I did not think I would care for a vessel this large but I was pleasantly surprised.
Orca, (Killer Whale) just like home came right down the port side of the ship and our patio was on the port side. I got a good picture. This occurred in Gerlache Strait.
We had three naturalists on board. One fellow had worked in the arctic since right after world war ll, he gave a fantastic lecture on Shackleton. He had met and spoke to a number of the Shackleton crew who were on the Endurance in 1914 when it got stuck in the Weddell Sea. He wrote a book which I bought, "Antarctica from South America". The other two were biologists as well, with doctorates and had spent many years at stations in the Antarctic. They say that it is a myth to believe warm waters harbor more marine life.The opposite is true. Cold waters contain more oxygen, meaning more zooplankton and nutrients like "krill" which provide the basis for all life in the arctic regions. Hence, large mammals thrive, like whales, such as the Blue and Fins, millions of penguins, seals and birds. Nothing lives on shore though. It is all a marine life show.
With humans now harvesting krill in unregulated huge fishing boats in this area, an ecological disaster might be in the making for all life in the Antarctic.
About as far south as we got was 65 degrees south latitude. It was pretty cold on deck some times, mostly from the wind moving across it.
Actually, we were still almost 1800 miles from the south pole. And over 3000 miles to the ocean on the other side of the continent.
Antarctica is not the smallest continent. It's land mass is larger than Europe or Australia. In fact it is twice the size of Australia. It is 98% covered by ice. We were sailing in and around the Antarctic Peninsula. They say that 96% of the continent's coast is ice cliffs. But on the peninsula you can see beaches and rock outcroppings. They also say that during the Antarctic winter the size of the continent almost doubles if you include the winter sea ice. There is also thousands of square miles of permanent sea ice, like in the Weddell and Ross Seas which are not included as part of the official Antarctic Continent either.
There is an east and west Antarctic. They don't know for sure yet because of the ice depth, but it is possible that if the ice melted there would be two continents instead of one as the low land between the east and west highlands would be a sea channel.
On average, it is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent and has the highest elevation of all the continents. However it is the interior of the continent which is technically the largest desert in the world. The coast does get quite a bit of precipitation, however.
The U.S. and Russia both have stations in the interior. The U.S. right at the pole. Russia's is higher up and colder though. They say a structure built at the pole will survive for decades with little snow around it, while a station on the coast will be covered by hundreds of feet of snow just after a few years. So, on the coast, they now build on stilts and keep adding to them as it snows in order to keep the buildings on the surface. That way they don't have to continually plow and move snow.
The ships five swimming pools were covered with nets, which means "no swimming today". Even though we had one very sunny and beautiful day down there, the temperature was still around 34. That is the same latitude as Fairbanks except Fairbanks is north latitude, also in Fairbanks it would have been July 22nd. It snowed one day for a bit, I love to take hot tubs in the snow, but for some reason they closed those also when we were there.
I took many shots of ice bergs. The huge tabular bergs were amazing. They break off the huge continental ice shelves and there are thousands of them around. I understand they sometimes go for over a hundred miles on top. They float around the ocean for decades. Sometimes their flat tops are over a hundred feet above the sea, and they reach down 700 feet below the surface of the water. There are also millions of smaller ice bergs. For many years they have called some of these "Bergy Bits", Britt speak. But they aren't being cute when they do so. Smaller ones than that are what they call "Growlers", hey, big surprise in Alaska, but there is a reason for this designation. The smaller bergs are what the crew is most worried about as they can't pick them up as well on radar at night and they can do considerable damage. Star Princess has a double hull. The huge ones are no problem to see and avoid.
The Star Princess had an "Ice Captain" on board. He was retired Coast Guard and had captained our nation's largest ice breaker, the Polar Star, on scientific expeditions in the Antarctic for years. He spoke to us a couple of times. Right after we left and headed into Drake's Passage he said something interesting "I don't get into these "Global Warming" arguments because I am not a scientist. However, I will tell you this, my first summer here was in 1984, no way we could have taken a ship this size back then into the areas where we have just been. There was so much ice then that even a consideration of doing so would have been ridiculous."