We have realized the thrill of visiting Antarctica, our 7th continent, and thanks to the weather, new friends we made on the sailing, the professional crew, and the extraordinary service we received each day, we doubt this cruise will ever be topped.
Silversea required us to purchase their charter air package and although it had a few rough spots (check-in at the Buenos Aires domestic airport and a long wait for baggage once we returned to Buenos Aires) we understand why they did it the way they did and we really can´t complain. We were taken to a ski lodge 25 km from Ushuaia for lunch on the 8th and the lamb BBQ was pretty good. We boarded the vessel around 2pm and our luggage was waiting for us in our suite (all cabin categories are called suites). The welcome we received at the ship really started the cruise on a positive note. The suite was roomy and a bottle of champagne was waiting for us.
The sail away was nice and the trip down the Beagle was uneventful. Apparently it was a bit rough the previous day but the initial stage of the transit of the Drake Passage was pretty smooth. It got a bit bumpy after 11pm and it stayed that way throughout most of the 9th. We made good speed across the Drake on the 10th and actually arrived early enough in the South Shetland Islands to take a bonus excursion at Half Moon Island where we visited a chinstrap penguin colony.
The 11th began a stretch of weather that can only be described as extremely rare for the region. We actually had 14 landing or Zodiac cruising events when only 12 had been planned so we were very fortunate. Sunny days with temperatures hovering at 0°C were the standard for the next 6 days. We crossed the Antarctic Sound and had a morning excursion at Brown Bluff where we visited gentoo and adelie penguin colonies. We saw a few chicks and some hauled out seals and then hiked about 1.2km up a glacier to see some great views of the ship and bergy bits in the Sound. The afternoon brought a Zodiac cruise along the shoreline of Kinnes Cove where we saw more penguin rookeries, seals, and a pod of some 12 to 15 Orcas.
The 12th tooks us on a transit of Gerlache Strait to Paradise Bay and we saw humpback whales and majestic scenery. We had a Zodiac tour at Skontorp Cove and saw the magnificent ice sculptures floating there. We saw some Antarctic Shag bird nest areas and listened to the snap, crackle, and pop of the melting brash ice in the water around us. In the afternoon we stopped at Base Brown for a climb up a hill to a point some 80 meters above the water. We slid down the hill in a snow chute made by our expedition team, it was great fun! Some of the heartier passengers made multiple trips down the chute. The wind picked up to 60 kts and we sailed in a blizzard during the night.
On the 12th we tried to sail through the Lemaire Channel but it was blocked by considerable ice. We shifted to Plan B and took a Zodiac tour of Hidden Bay which was breathtaking for us Antarctic rookies as well as our seasoned expedition team. A planned second landing was cancelled by a massive amount of new snow from the night before so we stayed on the ship and enjoyed each others company.
¨Glorious¨ does not do justice to the 14th and the excitement of the crew was evident at every turn. We visited a Chilean Navy base in Dorian Bay, made a bonus stop in Danco Bay where we climbed another hill and did another slide to the bottom,and stopped at Cuverville Island. At all 3 points we had the pleasure of watching gentoo and adelie penguin antics between their mating/nesting areas and the sea. Some were trekking well over 100 yards from the shoreline to their communities. We always gave them the right of way and they had absolutely no fear of us. We observed the 5 meter rule but many of them did not! The nest building ritual was fun to watch as males brought pebbles to the nests from the coastline or from the nest next door. The actual penguin mating routine looked to be quite difficult and required good balance. Everything penguin related was very amusing! We did see some penguin nest raiding by skua birds but understand that is part of the lifecycle of wildlife here.
The 15th was a carbon copy of the previous day weather-wise. We visited the Port Lockroy station, mailed some postcards, viewed more gentoo´s and shags, and did some shopping at the store. We took another Zodiac ride and spotted a humpback whale. We enjoyed lunch on the aft deck of Prince Albert. During the night it snowed again.
On the 16th we arrived at Whaler´s Bay on Deception Island and enjoyed a 1.0 km hike to a great viewpoint above the bay. That afternoon we stopped at Telefon Bay for a longer 3+km hike to a point overlooking the old whaling operation. Many opted for the ¨Polar Plunge¨ and everyone had a grand time either participating or simply watching. As we departed the South Shetland Islands for Ushuaia the wind picked up (50+ knots) and the Drake became a bit grumpy again and the swells hit around 10 meters.
King Neptune kindly eased up on us for the rest of the Drake crossing on the 17th and 18th and we arrived back in Ushuaia in time to take a stroll around town after dinner.
Prince Albert II has a very professional and friendly crew. Every one of them knew all of our 128 names by the start of the 3rd day onboard. The dining room team led by Ali and Andrea was so kind and always ready to accommodate every request. They managed to to give us a variety of dining partners while at the same time allowed us to sit with new friends. Norbert the head chef is so gifted and goes out of his way to make each meal offering special. He even took requests! The cooks do a phenomenal job every day. The food servers were friendly and their recommendations were spot on. They often carried our meals to our table. The breakfasts and lunches were served buffet style and the variety of food was always more than one can imagine. Dinners were characterized by numerous choices cooked to perfection. Desserts, especially at lunchtime were always tasty and different. The chocolate mint ¨zero-zero¨ ice cream was our favorite. The drink servers quickly learned our personal preferences and were ready to take good care of us until the wee hours. Perry on the keyboard has an incredible repertoire of music and never overpowers the room as he plays. Our suite butler, Jim, and attendant, I Gede, were largely invisible but our suite was always well supplied and immaculate. They always had a welcoming smile to go along with their desire to provide anything we wanted or needed.
The immensely experienced and hard working team of nearly a dozen experts, skilfully directed by our Expedition Leader Conrad, was absolutely top-notch. Their knowledge of all things Antarctica including history, politics, birds, seals, penguins, whales, geology, geography, marine biology, and climatology was mind boggling. Their lectures were well organized and presented in an entertaining manner. Their Zodiac driving skills were commendable as they kept us thrilled and safe at all times. Our photographer, Kristine, did a fabulous job recording our journey and her DVD of the cruise is a work of art! We dined with members of the expedition team on several occasions and their conversation added a lot to our understanding of Antarctica.
Hotel Manager Martin Blanar runs a tight ship and also has a marvelous staff who go out of their way to attend to every need. We had the pleasure of dining one night with Martin and he is a true gentleman.
Captain Peter Stahlberg leads an experienced bridge team that gave us no concerns throughout the voyage. The Captain is clearly a great leader who is loved by his crew.
After this amazing adventure it is small wonder that so many of us booked another expedition with Silversea while we were onboard.
I doubt anyone can provide the high degree of service and overall outstanding expedition experience as we received onboard Prince Albert II.