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Home > Virtual Cruises > Antarctica on Lindblad's National Geographic Endeavour
Antarctica on Lindblad's National Geographic Endeavour
Day 1: Preparing for Antarctica
Day 2: Starting in Santiago
Day 3: On to Ushuaia ... and Onboard
Day 4: Drake's Passage and Onward to Antarctica
Day 5: Landfall in Antarctica
Day 6: Penguins & Palmer Station
Day 7: The Krill Debate & Really Cool Photography
Day 8: The Circle, Tropical Kayaking & Lots of Seals
Day 9: Antarctica Recedes, Civilization Approaches
Related Links
National Geographic Endeavour ship review
National Geographic Endeavour Member reviews
South America & Antarctica Cruises
South America & Antarctica Messages
Lindblad Expeditions Messages
Day 3: Thursday, On to Ushuaia ... and Onboard
On to Ushuaia ... and Onboard
5:15 came early this morning, as it always seems to, and before long, we were on the airplane for our Lindblad charter flight to Ushuaia. For the last 30 minutes, we flew over the Andes, looking at jagged, snow covered peaks contrasting with the blue waters of the Beagle Channel cutting through the mountains. The mountains create some bumpy flying conditions, and our landing at Ushuaia was not for the faint of heart. Because of the direction of the wind, we had to fly past the runway before doing a sharp, 180-degree descending turn in order to somehow come to a smooth landing on the runway.

As we descended over the harbor, we saw ample evidence that Ushuaia is a remote but popular cruise port. Four other ships were docked, including two large mega-ships sailing from Buenos Aires to Santiago, as well as two small expedition ships also preparing to sail to Antarctica. The signs at the airport welcomed all disembarking passengers to the "End of the Earth," but I wondered if they knew we were heading for Antarctica. Surely that title belongs to Antarctica and not Ushuaia?

We wouldn't be boarding the ship until 5:30 p.m. In the meantime, Lindblad entertained us by busing us to the end of the Pan American Highway where a glass enclosed catamaran would take us back to Ushuaia via the Beagle Channel. On the bus ride out, our guide made multiple references to Ushuaia being the southernmost city in the world, and the numerous signs on storefronts and in the city left little doubt that this is a source of pride for residents. Our guide even felt compelled to point out the southernmost golf course in the world!

Upon boarding the catamaran, we enjoyed a tasty lunch while getting underway. For the next hour and a half, we marveled at the view of towering mountains on either side of us and got our first feeling of being out in true wilderness. I can see firsthand why cruising through the Chilean fjords, a staple of South America round-Cape Horn itineraries, is such a popular voyage in its own right.

Today, our company at lunch comprised a diverse group of individuals. One woman from Arizona is in her late 60's and is traveling alone on her first cruise. Having watched the migration of Monarch butterflies in Mexico and trekked in Nepal, she's an active traveler. She seems unfazed by Drake Passage's reputation as a fickle, stormy stretch of water that can test even seasoned sailors -- we'll sail through it both on our way out to Antarctica and on our way back.

Also at our table is Flip Nicklin, our resident National Geographic photographer for the trip. Possibly the world's premier photographer of whales, Flip regaled us with incredible tales of his National Geographic assignments over the last 30 years, including drifting on ice flows for weeks on end to photograph polar bears or swimming inches away from massive 50-foot long whales off Hawaii. His last trip to Antarctica was more than 20 years ago, when he arrived on an old wooden boat that rolled horrendously in any sort of sea. It served as his base for dives into the chilly water to photograph krill, and there is no doubt he is looking forward to returning in considerably more luxurious surroundings this time around.

From the start, he is peppered with question after question about photography. He cheerfully answers each and every one, ranging from the basics (what do the different modes on my camera mean?) to the advanced (could he offer some advice on image stabilizing lenses?) Throughout the entire trip, Flip's positive, friendly attitude never wavered. Even when he was in the midst of catching the perfect shot of a diving whale or a swimming seal, he would stop immediately and give his full attention to anyone that asked for his advice. He spent hours transferring his images to his laptop in the ship's lounge, preferring to work in public rather than in his cabin so that he was more readily accessible for anyone that wanted to talk to him.

After about an hour and a half of cruising past snowcapped, jagged peaks, we came within spitting distance of some rocks where colonies of penguins and cormorants live. They are wonderful to look at, but knowing that inside of two days we'll be walking amidst thousands of penguins, I didn't mind when we had to depart and head to the pier where our ship awaited us.

Our first view of the National Geographic Endeavour was remarkable because it revealed its size, or lack thereof -- our funnel was only slightly taller than the adjacent mega-ship's bow. Docked at the same pier were the towering, boxy bulk of Celebrity Infinity, NCL's 50,000-ton Norwegian Dream, and Hurtigruten's more moderately sized Fram (which would make its own headlines that week when it lost power and bumped into an iceberg). Endeavour wasn't simply dwarfed by these massive vessels; rather, it looked more like a research vessel than a cruise ship with its small size and doughty, unusual profile.

On closer inspection, National Geographic Endeavour had all the appropriate attributes of an expedition ship. Hanging off the stern, a large fleet of rubber Zodiacs stood ready; kayaks were secured to its top deck; and numerous cranes punctuated its profile and stood ready to lower the aforementioned kayaks and Zodiacs to the water. Her bow was long and solid, her hull thick and strong.

Built in 1966, the ship was originally constructed as a North Sea fishing trawler, which means that the vessel was designed to handle the North Sea's famously rough weather. Its capacity of only 110 passengers ensured we'd be given ample opportunities to go ashore in Antarctica, where the number of persons allowed on land at once is limited in order not to overwhelm the wildlife and ecosystem.

Another nice aspect to sailing on such a small vessel? With only 110 people boarding, there's neither a queue nor a delay. We simply met the Hotel Manager at the gangway and were shown to our cabin without needing to check in, show ID's or register our credit card. (Cabins do not have keys or doors that can be locked from the outside, per Lindblad policy.)

With Champagne in hand from a welcome aboard reception, my father and I went on deck with our fellow passengers to enjoy the delightful, warm sun and the brilliant views. For the next six hours, we would be sailing down the Beagle Channel in sheltered waters. The sun didn't set until 9:30 p.m., and twilight lingered until well past 11 p.m.

As we watched the towering mountains glow in the waning sun, it was hard to imagine a better start for our Antarctic voyage.
Day 2: Starting in Santiago red arrow Day 4: Drake's Passage and Onward to Antarctica

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