The following are my opinions and observations:
--LeLyria Chartered by A&K--
Overall, I thought the A&K tour was disorganized and communication was poor. I wasn’t impressed with the A&K staff in Buenos Aires, Ushuaia or on the ship—they appeared not to have much interest in the guests. In my opinion, on several occasions, they were rude and unprofessional (especially the A&K staff in Buenos Aires). On one instance, they told several individuals that they were holding up the bus because they didn’t pick up their charter flight boarding passes. However, there wasn’t any notice that we had to pick them up before boarding the bus. Customer service from the A&K office went downhill after they received your final payment. Often times, they didn’t answer calls or didn’t follow-up with requests for information. Surprisingly, the primary photo coach did respond via e-mail to questions I asked during the photography Webinar.
The packing list was not useful. Fortunately, I realized it wasn’t going to be as cold as the list made it sound so didn’t carry numerous layers of cold-weather items like most did. I only wore gloves once on a windy zodiac trip.
The sizing of the rental boots and parka was not accurate. Fortunately, you were able to exchange the boots on the ship. I even went and tried on the rental boots at REI at the recommendation of the Ship to Shore Traveler representative, however the boots were not the same. The provided walking poles were useful.
You definitely needed more than the recommended 300mm lens. You didn’t need much camera storage or extra batteries (unless your batteries were old and didn’t hold a charge) because the times photographing the wildlife were so short and infrequent. I didn’t have to charge my camera batteries once and I took over 3500 (JPEG/RAW files) photos with a DSLR. A dry bag or professional camera backpack was definitely needed if you are carrying two cameras ashore. A camera with a 300mm or less lens easily fit underneath your parka for protection from splashes. If it didn’t fit underneath, you would need the dry bag or professional camera backpack (e.g., second camera or lens greater than 300mm). The backpack provided by A&K was not sufficient.
The buses in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia used for tours and airport transfers did not have air conditioning. You were rushed through every stop on the tour in Buenos Aires. As an example, you had less than five seconds at Eva Peron’s grave.
The included meals at the Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires were provided buffet style in a ballroom; certainly not what I expected on a tour at this price point. The Arakur resort in Ushuaia was a glorified banquet hall without A/C. Again, a buffet lunch was provided in a large room.
The Ship: Le Lyrial (Ponant) Chartered by Abercrombie and Kent-- Jan 2020
The ship management and reception personnel on Le Lyrial (Ponant) ship were efficient and friendly. Whenever I reported a problem, a repair person was sent to my cabin immediately and they even followed up the next time they saw me asking if the repair was completed. However, I certainly didn’t expect to have repair personnel in my cabin over five times during a 15-night stay.
My cabin had stains on the carpet. One vent appeared to have mold or a lot of debris inside it. Water leaked in the balcony door during a bad storm and the remaining three days afterwards. They placed duct tape, but that didn’t stop the water from entering. I had to put towels on the carpet and had a large industrial fan in my room one day. Overall, the décor was showing wear and tear in several public areas.
They ran out of Diet Coke and ginger ale six days before the cruise ended. The food usually had to be sent back because it was undercooked.
The presentations were not as detailed or informative as I expected. Only basic information was provided. The daily “re caps” were not helpful or interesting. Nothing was said about the next day’s schedule that couldn’t be read in the evening program. Helpful additional information should have included the weather forecast (e.g., temperature) and the type of camera lenses needed. Having the weather provided 15 minutes before boarding the zodiac didn’t help since you had to be dressed and in line almost 45 minutes before your boarding time to ensure the maximum amount of time ashore. The Zodiac excursions were too long. Even the A&K expedition staff member was checking their watch to see if it was time to bring us back to the ship. The wildlife at the landings was amazing; however I did expect to have the A&K staff point out more unique situations than they did. After all, there were over 19 A&K staff on our trip. Instead, as an example, you had to ask where a chick or penguins with an egg were located. With such limited times ashore, I felt this was essential.
We did encounter a severe storm crossing the Scotia Sea and missed our stop in the Falkland Islands. According to the Captain, it was the worst in 17 years. (The Drake crossing was the calmest of the season.) No attempt was made to substitute for the missed day in the Falklands, a major stop on the trip and reason for choosing this itinerary. The A&K staff member was very rude when several people asked at the “daily recap” if there would be an additional stop or a tour added in Ushuaia. We also missed stopping at Gold Harbor in South Georgia. Otherwise we had 8 landings and 3 Zodiac tours.
I never received a post-expedition log book as stated in the pre-travel documents and numerous times during the journey. Even without the weather complications, I would not travel with or recommend A&K again.