Just to start I want to say that a trip to Antarctica is a special thing. It is the most magical and wonderful and amazing trip anyone can make. The sheer scale of the scenery is difficult to verbalize and the awe it inspires cannot be transmitted by pictures or words.
The expedition began in Buenos Aires. I flew in on a Delta flight from Atlanta which was uneventful. Met at the airport by A&K representatives. Waited around for more people on the tour, and waited, and waited. The representatives apparently did not know if the other pax had made the flight and only surmised that there was problem with the luggage. After about 40 minutes they put me on the transport bus. Waited there for 15 minutes at which point A&K provided me with a private car and driver and a representative for the drive into BA. Since I came in a day early I was grateful that I was able to check into my hotel room at the Caesar Park immediately on arrival. Room was nice on a high floor. I had no problems with the hotel but others on the trip reported that their bathrooms flooded and they had poor service in trying to get the problem remedied. The breakfast provided was good. I had booked a private guide for the two days and did not participate in the A&K cocktail party or their optional city tour. As a note, the Brits on the tour were put up at the Sofitel (got much higher marks than the Caesar Park) and did not the invitation to the cocktail party. My private guide took me on tour of the city by cab, foot and subway. I truly enjoyed the extensive walking and being in the local areas. Tried the Argentinian ice cream which is truly special. I was told that the average serving for Portenos was a 1/4 kilo per person. :)
I ate at a parilla on the first night. The steak was a little overcooked for my taste (chef gets to cook it the way they want)but had a nice smoky flavor. Tried the fried cheese and the morcilla (blood sausage). It was a nice dinner but not my favorite. The next day was more walking and included a visit to La Recoleta Cemetary. Truly astounding place and not to be missed. That evening I got to go to the Gardel museum and had a private tango lesson. That is something that, if you want to learn to tango, I heartily endorse. Of course you can't learn that in a one hour lesson but it was a good start. Afterwards I was taken to a local Milonga - a really local place and told the rules of the house. The sponsor of the Milonga is the one to admit you and seat you - if you can't dance you don't get in. Men are on one side of the room and women on the other. One uses eye contact to ask someone to dance. It is considered rude to make eye contact and then decline to dance. Had a migas ham and cheese sandwich and shared a bottle of Malbec. Wonderful evening.
Got in at 12:30 and the wake up call was at 3am. :( Boarded the transfer bus at 4am and went to the domestic airport for the transfer to Ushuaia at 5:30. Three and half hour flight down. We were told that if you wanted to drive it would take 3 days because of the state of the roads. Uneventful flight. Upon arrival we were taken on a tour of Tierra del Fuego national park. Very nice, very scenic. We made several stops for exploring and picture taking. Afterwards we had a barbecue lunch of chicken, lamb, sausage, fried potatoes and salad. There was folkloric dancing show provided. Many thought it was hokey but I thought the performers were trained dancers and were quite sweet. Our passports were collected before lunch and we were given our ship cards. We were then taken to Ushuaia proper and, since it was still too early to board, we were given "free time.' Not much to do since it was Sunday and most of the shops were closed and it was raining. There are evidently 300 days of rain/year in this area.
Ushuaia is a native Yamana word meaning 'bay towards sunset.' It is a small city located on the Beagle channel. We boarded quickly and efficiently. We were greeted with glasses of champagne and everyone was very welcoming. Our luggage was already in the cabin. Did a quick unpacking and then got ready for the mandatory fire drill. Usual stuff. Ended up in the theater and got a welcoming speech from the captain and explanations of the adventure to come. Dinner was at the buffet space.
We were supposed to leave Ushuaia at 11pm. Upon awakening I noted we were in the same place. Evidently they were waiting for a spare part for the engine and it did not arrive until early in the morning and they needed to install it. Frankly, it was better to sail up the Beagle channel during the day since one could take pictures. Not sure why they don't do that ordinarily. It would make sense to just overnight in Ushuaia since we made up any lost time during the sea day.
Sea day - lectures by the naturalists on the team. Wonderful talks by people who were specialists in their field. We had an ornithologist, a geologist, a veterinarian turned team member, a historian, a biologist and naturalist. Each gave lovely, in depth talks. We would have at least two per day.
Falkland Islands. We landed at New Island which is home to a large Rockhopper penguin rookery. There are also Black-browed Albatrosses and Cormorants which nest there. The zodiac drivers were all great and the guys that helped you into and out of the boats were totally competent. The landings were wet so you really need your waterproof pants and waterproof tall boots. We were fortunate to have good weather for this stop and layering kept you comfortable. There was supposed to be a stop at Carcass Island but the seas were too rough and we could not make a landing.
Two sea days with more lectures.
The ship is lovely and designed in a French style. The furniture is Ligne Rosset and very chic. There is lots of champagne always available along with mixed drinks, beer and soft drinks included in the price. Premium drinks (single malt scotch, good wines) are charged for. The wines provided were rather poor. One of the people I was friendly with made the comment that what they were serving were 'baby' wines - made for an introduction but not really worth the effort if you want decent wine. The mixed drinks were good but you might want to ask the bartender to add another shot of your poison. ;)
The food on board was, shall we say, variable. Breakfast was the usual. Good.
Eggs scrambled and scrambled with ham at the steam table. Home fries that looked like McDonalds but were tasty. Sausage that was odd tasting. Was told that they started out beef but then went to lamb. I did not care for them. Bacon which I also did not care for and roasted tomatoes that were good, and pancakes and french toast. You could also have eggs any way you wanted at the omelet station. They had wonderful croissants and pain au chocolat. Baguettes and white bread were available. Also, there was fruit and yogurt, and cereals and oatmeal. All in all a nice breakfast assortment. You could have it in either the buffet restaurant on 6 or in the dining room on 2.
Now to the lunch and dinner. Sadly it went from lovely to awful with awful winning for the most part. I ate mostly in the 6th deck venue since the group that I was friendly preferred choosing their own food. Service on 2 was extremely slow and entailed painful waits between courses. Beef was sublime the one time that they had it braised. It was dry and gristly all the other times. Lamb was divine the day they had it braised. Otherwise, it was tough, gristly and very difficult to eat. One night they had osso bucco - went to the dining room on 2 since I love osso bucco. It had a lovely sauce - just needed another hour and a half in the oven. Pork ribs - sublime. Need I say that it was braised? Fish - generally dry and inedible. They did have two winners - a sardine dish one day and a hake on another. Both were not overcooked and really good. Otherwise the fish was awful. Sad. Choices were odd and seemed to have no theme or reason to be together. You could have fish and chicken available with chicken paella and spaghetti with tomato sauce along with the carrots. The few gala dinners were better but there were still misses among them. When I am paying this kind of money for a cruise I do not expect lumpfish 'caviar' as a gala appetizer. The tea sandwiches all had pre-aged bread. Not sure why they didn't just toast the bread and leave it at that. It would have seemed more logical. The bread chef made really good rolls. The pastry chef was very good. Made you want to just have rolls and dessert. :)
There were also vegetarian selections and lots of different kinds of salads. Some winners, some losers. Just about everything, to my taste, needed salt.
Also had a cheese assortment. Don't think the French on board were amused. :)
South Georgia Island. We were extremely lucky with the weather and were able to make four landings. The first landing was at Salisbury Plain. Amazing scenes of King penguins - it is home to one of the largest colonies in the world. The sound is unbelievable. The 'oakum boys' (yearling chicks) whistle and the adults have a sound like a kazoo. I'll try to post a video to youtube - it must be heard to be believed. Also loads of fur seals with their two week old pups - adorable. Just have to be careful since they will attack without provocation and have a very nasty bite. Also, since it was Christmas Eve, there was carol singing in the Grand Salon at 7pm.
Christmas day was at Grytviken. We had a hike up the mountain from Shackleton's grave (we had a toast to him with grog before the hike) to a small lake. Then down a mountain ridge that became smaller and smaller til you had to just jump onto more sloping ground. Interesting ground in that is was squishy. Did not know that water could be retained so well on a slope. After the hike we had a small service at the whalers church there. It was a Norwegian church that had been brought over intact and was consecrated Christmas day 1913. After the service we had a champagne toast to the holiday.
It was beautifully set up on the lawn outside the church. They have a post office there and many sent out cards. Nice whalers museum also - very informative. The afternoon landing was St. Andrews Bay. St. Andrews bay is home to 150,000 nesting pairs in addition to 100,000 yearling chicks and elephant seals.
Next day was at Gold Harbour - more penguins and seals and glaciers and awesome scenery. We were supposed to do a zodiac tour but the seas were too rough and it was deemed too dangerous
More sea days and lectures on the way to the Weddell Sea. We were very fortunate since the eastern part of the Antarctic peninsula is not regularly on the schedule. We tried to make a landing at Paulet Island but the area was totally blocked in by ice so there was a decision to do a zodiac tour. Awesome!!! You got a eye-to-eye visit with ice floes and penguins. Got really great pictures on the trip. Continued on through the Antarctic Sound to Half Moon Island and to a Chinstrap penguin rookery. Saw newly hatched chicks - generally two hatched at a time. Really cute.
Then on to Deception island. The kicker to this place is that it is the caldera of an active volcano. There are active thermal vents and, theoretically, you have warm waters to swim in. There were many who did the whole plunge. I waded in up to my knees. The air temperature was 34 degrees, the water temp was 32. It was cold.
One of the more unusual aspects of this cruise was that one of the passengers, after doing the swim, had a heart attack that night. It was decided that the ship could not handle the emergency and we headed back to King George Island. Do not get sick on this trip. The time between the declaration of the emergency and arrival at King George was 14 hours. Also, the medevac plane could not come in from Chile due to heavy fog. While waiting to hear if we had to return to Ushuaia for emergency treatment for this passenger, we had a tour of the island and the Chilean base located there. They have a navy portion and and army portion. 8 people. :) We also visited the Russian station. They had been celebrating new year's eve on Moscow time and were in no shape to greet visitors. :) They have an amazing Russian Orthodox church that is built on the top of a very high hill. It is a wonder in that location. Later that day it was decided that, despite the passenger having been revived four times after having had a flat line, he was sufficiently stable for us to continue.
We then went to the Gerlache Strait (amazing views of icebergs and floes and glaciers coming down to the water) and on into Paradise Bay. Our final stop and a landing on the true continent! It was the most beautiful location imaginable. Sadly it was very foggy but great. They had a sledding area available from the top of a very high hill. It was about a 1/4 mile hike up to the top and you went down on your butt. One of the few pix I bought from the ship's photographer just to prove that I did it. The expedition leader just kept telling us to be careful and not overextend ourselves. He really, really did not want any more heart attacks.
Back to Ushuaia via the Drake Passage. We lucked out once more and sailed the Drake Lake. Got back 12 hours early and some of the crew and pax did a night on the town. :)
Off the ship the next morning at 8. Painless. Onto buses for a trip to Lago Escondido. Lovely scenery. The Andes mountains are spectacular. Back to the airport and the charter flight to BA. Bought some tee shirts for the family.
Flight uneventful. BA - 5 hour layover. More shopping. Got to Atlanta early so we had to stay on the plane since the immigration crew did not arrive til 5:30am. Did the immigration hurry up and wait. Customs was nothing. Then - do you believe that you have just come off a plane in a secure area and you have to go through security again? The full deal - no water, zip lock bags, take off your shoes, etc. Sheesh! Onto plane for NYC. Again, uneventful flight and home.
Trip was more than I expected. The wildlife was amazing. We even got to see Fin Whales, Humpbacks, Commerson's Dolphins, and Orcas. I recommend this trip to all. The A&K expedition staff were wonderful. Each person was such an expert in their field and the support staff were perfect. The ship, on the other hand, had its share of problems. There was flooding in some of the cabins from the drains. It was so bad in some that the pax were relocated to other cabins. I saw a mattress being replaced on my deck. No mention of problems was ever made by the hotel staff. There was distinct smell of mold on deck 6 aft by the restaurant. I never noted any problems with the engines despite the cancellation of the trip after ours. We had no stabilizers for several days but that was explained as being unable to deploy them in ice filled waters. You appreciate what they can do when you don't have them. :)
Sorry to so long winded but there was just so much I wanted to say.