This report includes information on our February 3-19, 2020, “Beyond the Polar Circle” expedition cruise on the Le Soléal with Ponant. Although we had traveled on a “drive by” cruise of the Antarctic Peninsula in 2007 on the Golden Princess, this expedition offered the opportunity to experience the Antarctic region in more depth and the possibility of better wildlife sightings. Unfortunately, the number of sites we were scheduled to visit had to be curtailed due to a medical evacuation and there was not enough time to voyage south of the Antarctic Circle. Nevertheless, we saw six types of penguin (Magellanic, king, gentoo, rockhopper, macaroni, chinstrap), five types of seal (fur, elephant, crabeater, Weddell, leopard), three types of whale (fin, humpback, minke) and vast numbers of seabirds including wandering albatross and black-browed albatross. Despite the abbreviated itinerary, this was a fantastic wildlife-viewing experience!
Even though the on board ship experience (accommodations, service, food) was excellent, the expedition component was less so. Although the Expedition Leader worked effectively with the Captain to maximize the possible sites we could visit after the medical evacuation, he was very disorganized in other respects. The briefings and recaps were skimpy and added little to the expedition experience. The formal talks were not well-integrated with the expedition program. For example, there were no wildlife presentations before our visit to the Falkland Islands on Day 3, where the wildlife was mainly penguins and seabirds; a talk about seabirds was not given until Day 5 and about penguins on Day 13. To be fair, there were good talks about whales on Day 5 and on pinnipeds on Day 9, prior to encountering those species. Perhaps we were simply spoiled by the outstanding program provided by Quark Expeditions during our Arctic expedition last September. As another example, Quark provided brief biographies of our team prior to the cruise as part of the cruise information packet; Ponant only posted bios on a wall of the ship several days into the cruise and possibly only after it was suggested to them.
EXPEDITION ITINERARY: BEYOND THE POLAR CIRCLE (17 DAYS/16 NIGHTS)