I took the One Ocean trip to the Weddell Sea and the Falkland Islands from 23 Jan to 3 Feb of 2018. If I had to summarize the trip in a word, I would say that it was good. I would certainly repeat my decision to go with One Ocean on the ... Read More
I took the One Ocean trip to the Weddell Sea and the Falkland Islands from 23 Jan to 3 Feb of 2018. If I had to summarize the trip in a word, I would say that it was good. I would certainly repeat my decision to go with One Ocean on the trip; there were many things that were very good, a few that were not so good, and one that was simply terrible.
First, the good. Antarctica itself is stunning. Just like the pictures that we’ve all seen, but it’s very different to actually be there, to know viscerally that Antarctica exists and is as described.
The ship and the crew were in general outstanding, and the hotel manager was particularly good. But make no mistake: this is a working research vessel as opposed to a luxury liner like you would get with Carnival Cruises or some such. If you’re expecting luxury travel, you’re going to be disappointed.
I decided to go at the last minute, which meant I got whatever cabin was empty at the time. The One Ocean people were wonderful and easy to deal with. The late timing worked out well for me: I got a “superior” cabin to myself. It would have been quite spacious for two; for one, I had more room than I knew what to do with. The bathroom was clean and functional, but basically consisted of one small room with a toilet and shower in the same compartment. They had a common floor and the shower was separated from the toilet only by a cloth curtain. It was totally functional, but the kind of “non luxury” that you should expect.
The food was solid. I live a gluten-free life, and there were in general reasonable gluten free alternatives. I had read before departing that the desserts were fantastic (yay!) but I did not find that to be the case. There was typically only one dessert option available, and the gluten-free version was generally like the main dessert choice but adjusted to remove the gluten. Overall, I would say that the quality of the meals and of the desserts were comparable. There was not nearly enough ice cream or chocolate throughout the voyage. Be warned that there is basically no food available other than at scheduled meal times.
There were a couple of cases of norovirus as we started the cruise. The crew did an excellent job of keeping the ship clean and isolating the individuals involved (both staff, as it turned out). No one else came down with it and a few days later, everything was back to normal.
The disappointing: The weather was terrible. During our entire time in Antarctica, the only blue sky I saw was one small patch on the horizon. This definitely impacted what we were able to do, but the crew did a good job of producing alternatives.
This is obviously not One Ocean’s fault! But for a once in a lifetime trip, it’s a shame that the weather chose not to cooperate. I have no idea how often the weather is better than what I experienced, and how often it’s worse. I do know that even though Antarctica is a desert, it snowed on most of the days I was there.
The bad: As I’ve said, the staff was friendly and competent. There were three things I wish had been different.
First, we were told at basically every meal what a fantastic time we were having. I found this fairly offputting, since I can tell for myself if I’m having fun. So there was an element of “hard sell” throughout the trip. I would certainly have had a better time had I been able to come to that conclusion myself.
I also often had the impression that the expedition leader (cruise director, basically) was being less than candid with us. When the cases of norovirus were first reported, we were told to be careful washing our hands but that it was no big deal. Later that day, when the news had all been good (no new cases), we were told that we were in the midst of a “level 2 outbreak,” whatever that is. There were many other instances as well.
The second thing I found disappointing was the demographics of my fellow passengers. I’m 62, and it is fair to say that I was well below the median age of the other travelers. Well below.
This was compensated for somewhat by the fact that there were a variety of younger people on the ship who had been given discounts (or free passage) by One Ocean itself. A fellow who worked for a geographic society, who had brought his brother along as a guest. A handful of scientists (four?). A group of students from a Canadian college who were coming as part of a class they were taking. (Clearly, I need to go back to college.)
The scientists I found quite antisocial. This might be because they were busy, but they certainly had time to play cribbage in the bar. Perhaps I was the problem; I ask hard questions and am generally unwilling to accept pat answers. I don’t think they were comfortable with that. I had the strong impression that they felt that their trips mattered far more than ours did.
Now, obviously the rest of the passengers and I are subsidizing these folks’ journeys. I understand this from One Ocean’s perspective: a trip full of geriatrics would be no fun at all, and One Ocean is also committed to the science that goes on in the Antarctic region. But the scientists (and the students; more on them below) need to understand that we are their funders. I have done a great deal of sponsored research in my life, and I always treated my funders quite differently than the way the non-tourists on this trip treated me. (Of course, my funders were forking over much more money than the cost of an Antarctic cruise.)
The college students were more antisocial still, interacting truly exclusively with each other and with the staff (reducing staff availability for everyone else). They also were generally lounging around in the bar, spread out with laptops across multiple tables and making the limited bar space significantly smaller for all of the other passengers. If I were taking another One Ocean cruise, I would make sure that there was no similar student group aboard before I booked. I also had the impression that the students viewed the trip as a total boondoggle and were primarily paying lip service to the “class” that was the source of their vacation.
The behavior of the sponsored passengers hasn’t impacted my rating of the cruise; I think of it more as a lost opportunity on One Ocean’s part. I hung out with other folks and had a fine time. But to the extent that One Ocean invites these guests aboard to dilute the generally elderly nature of their paying clientele, they need to make that goal much clearer to the individuals being sponsored.
The final bad thing about my trip was the bartender. He cared about selling drinks, and did not give much of a rip about anything else. I asked him for two things (cough drops and some playing cards). In both cases, he did nothing. In both cases, I asked him again, he assured me he was on it, and continued to do nothing.
Crews always have people who are stellar and people who are not. While the One Ocean bartender was definitely on the wrong end of that scale, I suspect that it may actually be One Ocean’s fault. I believe that the bartender is paid either significantly or totally from the bar till, which would explain most of his behavior. So, to the One Ocean people who will undoubtedly read this: If you pay the bartender from the till, you need to stop.
The terrible: There was one thing that was bad enough that I would recommend against traveling with One Ocean until it is fixed.
The doctor was not equipped for the voyage. He was a very nice and caring guy, but simply not equipped. I went in to see him to get some cough drops, and he rummaged through this filing cabinet full of pills and produced some. He had no idea how they would interact with any of the other drugs I’m taking, which is OK, but he also had no way to find out, which is absolutely not ok. The guy in front of me was getting medication for his wife and wanted to know if it were contraindicated if she were pregnant. Again, the doctor did not know and had no way of finding out.
Antarctica is a remote and potentially dangerous place. Given modern technology, it is simply inexcusable that there is no complete medical library on board. If the doctor were to prescribe medicine and then have it impact a pregnancy, I expect that One Ocean would (rightly!) be held totally at fault. If the doctor were to unnecessarily withhold medicine out of concern that it might have negative consequences for a pregnant patient, the same would be true.
No one should travel on a One Ocean vessel until they have adequate medical resources and documentation aboard.
All told, though, this was a good trip. I came to do two things: get away from email and see tabular icebergs. I accomplished both of those things. I will remember the trip, and remember it primarily fondly, for the rest of my life. I’ve tried to point out a few simple things that One Ocean could do to improve the experience considerably but, as I said at the outset, I would make the same decision regarding passage had I known at the time of booking what I know now.
★★★½ out of five. If One Ocean fixes the medical documentation issue, it will be 4½ out of five. Read Less