I went because it was a route that few people ever do. I had already been to the Antarctic peninsula, and I was excited to take this more historic route that few people take. I was also super excited to get to the Subantarctic Islands - so few people even know about them! This is really one of the only cruises that stop there. This route offered an immense amount of wildlife viewing too. I had been on the Spirit of Enderby once before to Russia - so I knew sort of what to expect.
Embarkation and Disembarkation: All went as planned from what I could tell. I did explore Invercargill a little bit before leaving - it's a simple town - you don't need more than a day there. The day we left the waters were really, really rough...which was an indication of things to come. Someone had to be evacuated right away even. However the rest of the trip went pretty smooth. This route isn't for the meek when it comes to seasickness. I had a few rough days at first - but after day 4 I had acclimated to the seas!
Itinerary and Leadership: The itinerary was fluid and changed quite frequently - but that was exactly as expected - it's Antarctica and the Southern Ocean after all. I felt that Rodney, our expedition leader, mad the appropriate decisions given the weather hand we were dealt. We were unable to get to McMurdo and the Historic huts due to the fact that there was too much ice in the region. However we did cruise all the way down and see the Ross Ice Shelf. Even though it was tough to not get to see the historic huts - there was really nothing they could do about it and instead Rodney and the captain took us to other places that they don't normally get to due to the strange ice patterns and storms last summer. I personally think the key to taking a real expedition cruise like this is to be flexible...so we had to be flexible. I can see how Rodney can be seen as gruff - but I personally liked him and trusted his incredible knowledge of the area. I don't think there's another person out there that knows the Subantarctic Islands and Eastern Antarctica as well as he does. I don't mind if a 'leader' is tough if they are keeping us safe.
Wildlife: We saw an immense amount of wildlife - 11 species of penguins! I'm not a birder - but the birders were happy- so I know they saw a lot! We saw fewer whales that I was expecting - but once again it's all luck.
Staff: The staff were great - very accommodating and knowledgable. I liked all of the lectures and documentaries we watched. We had a really long time on the ship with this route, so I think they did a nice job of providing lectures and free time. I loved our Anarctic Circle Crossing ceremony we did...it really reminded you of how special this trip and route was.
Landings: My favorite stops were Franklin Island, Inexpressible Island and of course MacQuarie Island (so many penguins!!).
Ship: The ship is basic. And that's all I needed. It's a small ship and that's what I wanted. I like the feel of smaller ships and smaller groups. It allowed us to stay on landings longer and get around easier and quicker. However it also meant we were tossed around more. This isn't an easy route to take and this isn't a fancy ship. As long as you have those expectations coming in and are willing to be flexible - then I think you'll enjoy it. However if you are looking for a 'cruise' experience - this probably isn't the right ship for you. This was an old research ship - it's not modern or updated like the new cruise ships - but that's what I liked about it...it felt more real in a way. My biggest complaint is that the lecture room is on the lowest level with no windows - so any kind of rough seas makes it really hard to be there listening to a lecture until your body gets used to it. Otherwise - I loved that we could go up on the bridge and develop relationships with the Russian crew! They were great and so nice!
Food: The food on our trip was incredible. For 28 days we never had the same dish twice. The chefs were really top notch and they had great portion sizes so it wasn't like I gained weight on the trip!
Other Travelers: The other travelers were good. I think some people expected more of a luxury cruise experience for the cost. But honestly I thought the cost was about right for the length of the trip and the complexity of the trip and where we were. Big luxury cruise ships don't come this way for a reason - it's rough, and it's a LONG time at sea. As I mentioned before - if you have your expectations that this is an expedition ship and not a luxury cruise ship...then I think you'll like it. I sure did!
I can't remember my exact cabin number - but I was on the lowest level - the same level as the dining room and I loved it. This is the cheapest room and it's basic. It doesn't have a bathroom, but it does have a sink and a porthole that let in plenty of light. I like being low in the ship especially with the unpredictability of the Southern Ocean - there's a lot less movement down there. Plus - without a bathroom the cabin has a lot more space! There was a desk and two beds (not bunks). The shared bathrooms and showers were fine. They were always clean and I never once had to wait for a shower to open up. As I said, the rooms are basic - this is an older research ship turned expedition ship after all. But I wasn't looking for fancy - I just wanted a real expedition!