Visiting Antarctica on the Vantage Ocean Explorer was the trip of my dreams. I reserved a solo cabin, but about a month before departure was offered an upgrade to a Grand Veranda Stateroom on Deck 7 for a nominal price, so of course I said yes! The 2 days/nights in Buenos Aires were fun and interesting. Day 3, when we flew to Ushuaia was a grueling, long day though Vantage did everything possible to make it work smoothly. The flights are jam-packed and Aerolineas Argentina isn’t very efficient; nevertheless we arrived in Ushuaia on time and were greeted warmly by the staff onboard in time for a late lunch. Crossing the Drake Passage was rough, but not as bad as it gets. The Expedition team, 17 members in total, provided 2 days of lectures and activities to prepare us for the expedition, so I was never bored. On the morning of the 3rd day I was up at 5:15 a.m. taking pictures of glaciers and icebergs from my veranda, enthralled with the beauty of Antarctica. The next 7 days of zodiac cruises and landings were varied and fascinating. We soon fell into the rhythm of 2 daily excursions, and getting in and out of the zodiacs got easier. The Expedition team is very experienced, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They love what they do and it shows. 2 of the 14 excursions were cancelled because the wind, seas and ice/snow made it unsafe to land; however the Expedition team always had a Plan B and the lectures and entertainment they provided in lieu of a landing were quite interesting.
The ship is beautiful, modern and spotless, and with just 112 passengers, never felt crowded. The Library on Deck 6 was a popular hangout where you could get a cookie or coffee/tea any time of day. The Lounge on Deck 5 was used for all lectures and entertainment, and guests could be found there all day long reading, playing cards or chatting. There is a generous amount of public space, though most of the decks aren’t very useable in the polar weather - except for Observation Deck 8 which was a popular gathering spot for hours every day except in the roughest weather. I was often there until late in the evenings (because it doesn’t get dark), photographing whales and seabirds. Service was friendly and efficient, and many of the staff members and Expedition crew got to know my name. The food was excellent and varied, with little repetition in the menus. Beer and wine were included, and I never had to pay for a drink.
The ice-class ship handles the weather and seas well, and the experienced Expedition team said that it was much more comfortable than other, older ships doing Antarctica tours. It was fascinating to stand at the bow of the ship and watch the hull just crunch through ice fields. We had 2 captains on board - one who is retiring after this season, and the new one who is replacing him, so we were in good hands. We made it all the way to 68 degrees 17 minutes south, well below the Antarctic Circle, and celebrated the crossing with a fun Neptune celebration on Deck 8 the next morning. There was one very rough night on the return journey when I slept little and felt that I might be thrown out of bed, but I never felt unsafe - or seasick! A doctor was onboard, and sea sickness medications were available to anyone who needed it. Some guests were quarantined in their cabins with COVID, but complimented the staff for the way in which it was handled - linens and meals delivered to their rooms. They were able to see all lectures and presentations on their television and could still witness the majesty of Antarctica from their verandas.
My cabin was comfortable, quiet and spacious with more than enough storage for all my expedition gear and camera gear. The veranda was spacious, and I used it often to take photographs and a couple of times to enjoy the fleeting sunshine. The location, forward on Deck 7, is probably not the best for people prone to seasickness, but I don’t suffer from that affliction. I enjoyed being close to the forward Observation Deck 8, and the gym which I used occasionally. I was also close to the staircase which I used almost exclusively, rather than the elevator, to burn off more of the excess calories I was taking in from the excellent food!