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367 Antarctica Cruise Reviews

We planned the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica on Ponant, impressed with reviews, the small size of the ship and everything French about it. We had no idea that the trip would be memorable in more ways than one. We had an amazing 15 days ... Read More
We planned the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica on Ponant, impressed with reviews, the small size of the ship and everything French about it. We had no idea that the trip would be memorable in more ways than one. We had an amazing 15 days at sea, with highlights including stops along the Peninsula and South Georgia Island with surprise stops at the international research station (because a passenger had to be medically evacuated from its airstrip) and King Haakon Bay because winds were in our favor. The naturalists were brilliant and the crew was completely attentive. But it was our captain Stanislas Devorsine who showed his skill, not just through the notorious Drake Passage, but at the end of the cruise when he was told the government of Uruguay was not going to allow us to disembark because of closing its ports--even though we were all healthy. After unsuccessful negotiations, Ponant and the French government coordinated with various ambassadors representing the nationalities onboard and switched efforts to Argentina. Again a "no." The plan was then to sail north, to Rio to at least refuel and reassess. Through the 10-day situation, the captain kept us completely informed, had everyone's health checked daily and held meetings to keep our spirits up. When Brazil unexpectedly said yes, Ponant negotiated to get everyone flights home and transport us to the Rio airport, vowing we were not going to get off the ship without a guarantee of repatriation. Many cruise lines do an excellent job, but the real test is how they respond to a global calamity. We continue to read about horror stories onboard other lines and consider ourselves so lucky that we chose Ponant. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
Since we did an Arctic cruise in 2017 wanted to also do Antarctica. We were lucky enough to be offered a deal of 2 for 1 so grabbed it and consider ourselves very lucky., It was actually a sailing with embarkation on 16 Feb from Ushuaia ... Read More
Since we did an Arctic cruise in 2017 wanted to also do Antarctica. We were lucky enough to be offered a deal of 2 for 1 so grabbed it and consider ourselves very lucky., It was actually a sailing with embarkation on 16 Feb from Ushuaia which was an APT charter. This sailing does not appear on the Cruise Critic list! Unlike some of the other reviews we found the staff to be very friendly, the Filipino staff spoke better English than French, the Captain was very personable and obviously enjoyed mingling with the passengers. There was an open bridge policy unless the Red notice was on the door. As our cabin 505 was 3 away from this door we visited frequently, very useful when an announcement was made of something to see which should not be missed. The expedition team was excellent. The food was good but I did find myself wishing for cereals at breakfast and chocolates in the cabin at night instead of treat little cakes. With mostly Australians and New Zealanders on board they actually ran out of all their varieties of Black Tea! The organisation went well from hotel in Buenos Aires to Ushuaia & return. The APT representative who was with us from start to finish did a great job. I can recommend this cruise but for English speakers an appropriate charter may be easier. That said we had no incidences of French aloofness. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
The expedition was a long held dream. We were so pleased to be on a comfortable new and very environmentally friendly ship. The shell doors meant very speedy zodiac loading. The expedition leader and team epitomised the spirit of ... Read More
The expedition was a long held dream. We were so pleased to be on a comfortable new and very environmentally friendly ship. The shell doors meant very speedy zodiac loading. The expedition leader and team epitomised the spirit of exploration by ensuring we landed safely at amazing scenic and remote places. We enjoyed wonderful land encounters with penguins and seals. A highlight was going very far south to 68.14 degrees to see a beautiful part rarely visited. Not only the breathtaking scenery but the historic aspects at South Georgia were wonderful. visits to current and historic research stations on The Peninsula were another highlight.. The excellent lectures from highly qualified expedition staff gave a deeper understanding of the special environment we were visiting. There is a lot of deck space for marvellous wildlife and scenery viewing. The service and catering was very high quality. An exceptional adventure we will treasure for the rest of our lives, highly recommended. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
We left from Ushuaia and traveled to Antarctica on the Hondius in February of 2020. We had 2 days at sea, followed by 4 days of exploring the Antarctica, and finished with 2 more days at sea. The guides were excellent and very ... Read More
We left from Ushuaia and traveled to Antarctica on the Hondius in February of 2020. We had 2 days at sea, followed by 4 days of exploring the Antarctica, and finished with 2 more days at sea. The guides were excellent and very professional and friendly. They were always pointing out wildlife and interesting information about the area we were in. The boat had just the right ratio of staff to guests. There were about 160 guests and about 70 staff. The food was tasty. We had a suite with a balcony which was nice when there were dolphins or whales to see. I would encourage anyone to try this company and this location. The staff really tried to get us off the ship as much as possible. We were in Zodiacs to travel from ship to shore and to cruise around. My husband even got to camp out on land one night. What an adventure with so many great photos! Suggestions: This cruise is really only for people who are in fairly good physical shape. I don't believe there was an elevator on board and getting in and out of the Zodiac boats required some balance. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
I always want to go beyond the limits... and this voyage took me further south than 70° latitude, right down to the Antarctic ice fields. An unforgettable experience. Like the entire trip, with quite a few landings on our way up along the ... Read More
I always want to go beyond the limits... and this voyage took me further south than 70° latitude, right down to the Antarctic ice fields. An unforgettable experience. Like the entire trip, with quite a few landings on our way up along the Antarctic peninsula to finally reach the Falkland islands before getting back to Punta Arenas. It was quite impressive to see all the different wildlife during this trip, from wales, seals, penguins to lots of different species of birds. On our way we also landed on Stonington Island to visit the historic sites of the former American and British stations on the Antarctic, which both have been abandoned more than 50 years ago. On our way back, we also stopped at Vernadsky Research Base, a Ukrainian Antarctic Station located at Marina Point on Galindez Island of Argentine Islands. A visit of the station and its facilities gave an insight of how these people live and work. And finally the drake passage made me realize how rough and challenging the sea can be when Atlantic and Pacific ocean meet around the cape. The cruise ship itself is designed and built according to the state of the art, incorporating a hybrid engine combined with the latest propeller technology. It started its operations mid of 2019 and thus is in absolut best shape. The service staff, whether engaged in housekeeping or treating the guests at the 3 different restaurants, was an absolut delight. Friendly, efficient and always with a smile on their faces, they made this voyage a pleasant experience. Talking about the restaurants on board, I encountered a bit of a problem: before going on this trip I promised to myself to keep an eye on the diet. No chance. Not in the least. And that was not because I'm not disciplined enough, the food display was just too appealing and made it impossible for me to resist. Fortunately, there's a gym on board of the Roald Amundsen, which gave me the opportunity to work off some pounds. But what would this trip have been without the exhibition team that was accompanying the cruise guests at all landings on the Antarctic and Falkland islands. But also when on board of the vessel, they expedition team was present all the time with briefings, workshops and presentations on a lot of different subjects, be it about the animal life of the visited regions, or the scientific view on glaciers and icebergs, the history of the Antarctic and its explorers, and many other subjects. As weather conditions can change rapidly in the Antarctic peninsula, the crew and exhibition team at some points had to change plans. They were always well-prepared to do so and made adjustments for the guest go very smooth and with no stress at all. Thanks to a wonderful crew and team! Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
Initially this cruise offered, Chilean fjords, Cape Horn, Falkland Islands, and various disembarkation points down the Antarctic peninsula. What we got was all the above plus crossing the circle and seeing the pack ice at 70 deg Sth with ... Read More
Initially this cruise offered, Chilean fjords, Cape Horn, Falkland Islands, and various disembarkation points down the Antarctic peninsula. What we got was all the above plus crossing the circle and seeing the pack ice at 70 deg Sth with associated landings and a chance for a solar plunge below the Antarctic circle. I found all ship amenities great with all meals of a very high standard. One of the highlights was the crew; from the Captain down they were very approachable, always had the time to talk, enjoyed a joke, provided excellent service and were extremely knowledgeable in their respective fields. As this was an "expedition" cruise there was minimal entertainment unlike what you would expect otherwise - most entertainment consisted of lectures given by the expedition personnel, experts in their fields which I found to be very informative and prepared you for the shore excursions. I have two steel knees and a partly fused back; I participated in all activities ashore and accomplished all bar one, the climb to the top of the hill on Westpoint Is, W Falklands - 50knot + winds was the cause. The "tea and biscuits" provided on the Falkland Islands was exceptional and was a great wind down after the walks - well done to all those involved. I was travelling solo so did not spend much time in the cabin, sea view only, couldn't afford the upgrade to balcony, however the bed was extremely comfortable, the ensuite with heated floor was great, the only drawback was the desk did not have a specific light so was a little dark - only wrote 3 postcards so not a huge problem. Excursions: What can I say - stupendous, magical, awesome and any other adjectives along these lines. I cannot express the wonder, the pristine beauty or the sheer spectacle of it all - it really does need to be experienced in person. The excursions included island and continental landings, visiting Ukraine research facility, zodiac trips, kayaking trips (not attempted due to inflexibility of knees) wildlife spotting (more plentiful around Christmas) and talking to the locals. To summarise, how good was it - brilliant; would I do it again - in a heartbeat. Would I do the polar plunge again - NO WAY, not that stupid. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
This trip far exceeded our expectations. The new ship was excellent, the crew were very friendly and helpful and the Expedition team were knowledgeable and approachable. We had a comfortable and spacious cabin on deck 5 with a large ... Read More
This trip far exceeded our expectations. The new ship was excellent, the crew were very friendly and helpful and the Expedition team were knowledgeable and approachable. We had a comfortable and spacious cabin on deck 5 with a large window. There was a good choice of food in the restaurant and either buffet dinners or fixed seating depending on the daily schedule. The trip is all about what you are going to see and everything is arranged around that. We were lucky to be able to land at Cape Horn, cross the Antarctic Circle and go past 70 degrees South to the ice fields. Interesting landings at Stonnington Island, Red Rock Ridge, Horseshoe Island, Ukrainian Research Base, Orne Island, Deception Island, some small boat cruising and 3 stops in The Falklands, not forgetting the Neptune Ice Challenge There is no usual cruise ship entertainment which was not a problem, the various lectures were informative and interesting and could be watched on your cabin tv if you didn’t wantto sit in the lecture room,. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
We recently returned from an Antarctic cruise on Roald Amundsen and I wanted to pass on our impressions on the company, the ship and the cruise. Most people have likely never heard of Hurtigruten unless they have taken a ferry in ... Read More
We recently returned from an Antarctic cruise on Roald Amundsen and I wanted to pass on our impressions on the company, the ship and the cruise. Most people have likely never heard of Hurtigruten unless they have taken a ferry in Norway. The company is best known for operating the ferries that travel up and down the coast of Norway but they also have several cruise ships and do cruises in North America, South America and Europe. Bookings can be made through travel agents, via the US internet site or via the Norway internet site. Prices for cruises through the different methods seemed to vary more than is normal for cruises we have taken on other lines so I would check a few to get the best price. We chose the Roald Amundsen because it was a new ship with modern accommodations and did “Expedition” cruises to Antarctica. There are a wide variety of ships and itineraries you can choose from when going to the Antarctic and we wanted to find a good mix of cost, adventure and comfort. We did a lot of research on this and chose Roald Amundson. The ship turned out to be just what we wanted. The ship was new and spotless. The Antarctic weather can be unpredictable so we chose a cabin with the least amount of motion in bad weather. Our cabin was RR418 which was on the lowest deck and in the middle of the ship. While the weather was mostly very calm we did have three days with 40 knot winds and 15 foot waves and we had no issues in our cabin. The cabin was larger and better equipped than we had expected with a double bed, a sofa and a desk. There was less storage space than we would have liked but since the attire is very casual we packed minimally and did not have any issues. The closet initially had only three hangers and when we requested more we got 10 hangers which was more than we could use. There are three restaurants on Roald Amundsen, two of which are available free to everyone and one that is available to suite customers and for a fee for others. Aune is the main dining room where most people ate three meals a day. Most days this was served as buffet to accommodate the shore excursions. For our cruise there were only three dinners with a set menu and assigned seating. For us we found the buffet vastly superior to the set menu. The buffet for all meals had a good mix of beef, pork, chicken, seafood and vegetarian items. I am not much of a seafood fan and I could always find three or four items that I liked. The second restaurant is Fredheim and is kind of like a fast food restaurant and serves hamburgers, hot dogs, tortillas with various filings and milkshakes (very good). We tried Fredheim twice for dinner and found it very good. We did not try Lindstrom which is the suite and for fee restaurant. Our cruise started in Santiago, Chile where the cruise included one night in a hotel in Santiago. When we arrived at the Santiago airport there were Hurtigturen people everywhere directing people to gathering points. Unfortunately our Hurtigruten experience did not start well when we found out they did not provide transportation to the hotel. Evidently you could have purchased this from Hurtigturen but we somehow missed this. For such a minor cost on an expensive cruise this seemed like something Hurtigruten should include particularly since this is the first exposure most people have to Hurtigruten. So we managed to get a shuttle to the hotel for about $10 each and arrived at the InterContinental hotel and the room and service was very good. Hurtigruten also had a checkin area in the hotel where you were assigned a group for departure to the airport for the flight to Punta Arenas the next morning and given luggage tags. Our bags were collected in the morning and the next time we saw them was in your cabin on the ship. Continental breakfast was provided in to go bags along with many coffee and tea stations in the hotel lobby. When your group is called you board the bus and proceed to the airport for your flight to Punta Arenas. Even though the flight is a charter each person must checkin individually and proceed through security to the boarding area. There did not appear to be any limitation on the amount of luggage you could check (we checked three bags between the two of us) and no one questioned anyone’s carryon either. Although the flights to Punta Arenas are early flights it appears you arrive in Punta Arenas before you can board the ship. So the bus gives you a little tour of Punta Arenas for about 2 hours before you proceed to the ship. On the ship there is a checkin process where you get your cabin cards and a lanyard. Before the ship departs there is the mandatory briefing and escort to your lifeboat station. You are also given your boots and jacket and assigned a shore group (we were the wandering albatross). The ship requests that you use the Hurtigruten app on your phone of tablet to find out about activities on the ship. The app can be downloaded for both Android and IPhone and is really a must have for the trip as this is how you are informed when your group will go ashore, any changes in the itinerary and the daily schedule. The app uses the onboard wifi (which was free and worked well for us). The daily schedule includes lectures and other activities conducted by the Expedition team members. The Expedition team includes individuals with a variety of areas of expertise and are your guides in the Antarctic. We had marine biologists, ornithologists, glaciologists and other experts on the Antarctic and its wildlife on the ship. The ship does not have a self service laundry and the prices to have laundry done is on the high side. On the first night of our cruise the captain announced that the Discovery channel was onboard filming our trip for the Mighty Ship series and also announced our itinerary would differ from the typical as we would be going much further south than normal (we ended up going below 70 degrees south). The good part was we got to experience the edge of the ice sheet in zodiacs but the down side is we spent less time around the Antarctic archipelago which has more wildlife. So our cruise was not the typical itinerary but I think in general the landings were pretty typical. The day before a landing is planned the head of the Expedition team will give a briefing on the landing site, its history and what you can expect to find there. The app gives you the time your group is expected to depart the ship. The order is rotated so each group is the first off and the last off. The landings in the Antarctic are generally a half hour to an hour depending on the location while stops in the Falklands allow you to stay as long as you like. Each landing group has about 30 people and when your group is called you go the “pit” where you wait to board the zodiacs. Each zodiac holds 12 people so three zodiacs take your group ashore. If you are taking camera or other equipment ashore it must be in a backpack so that both your hands are free when you get into and out of the zodiac. The Expedition team stresses this as there can be waves and wind when you board and you need both hands to grab the people helping you to board/exit the zodiac both at the ship and onshore. Once you are in the zodiac you can take your camera out but you must have it back in the backpack before you exit the zodiac. Onshore that Expedition team maps out where you can go to not disturb the wildlife. Generally they keep you 15 feet from penguins and farther from fur seals. Generally where you can go in the Antarctic is relatively small, 200 to 300 yards so a half hour to an hour is plenty of time ashore. Each landing is dependent on the weather and sometimes they had to revert to Plan B, C or D to find a landing spot. On days with landings it appeared they tried to accommodate two landings when that was possible. On our trip we had six landings and two days where we cruised in the zodiacs but did not land. On the Falklands we stopped at Stanley and also two settlements where there was much more walking with one involving 3-4 miles of walking and the other 1-2 miles. Each settlement included an unlimited amount of “tea and biscuits” or cookies and coffee/tea served by the hosts at the settlement. Note a settlement is generally a house, barn and a lot of pasture located on an island. One thing I can say is we brought too much cold weather gear. The coldest day we had was -5C and the warmest was 14C. The key was to make sure you were protected from the wind both in the zodiac and onshore. The jacket they give you is a pretty good windbreaker but otherwise provides little warmth. My typical attire was a merino wool medium base layer upper and lower, t shirt, jacket, waterproof pants and fingerless wool gloves. On the coldest day I added a wool sweater and was never cold. Going ashore you must wear the rubber boots you are given and I added wool liner sock and heavy wool socks. Onboard the typical attire was casual pants, jeans or sweatpants with a polo or t shirt. I have very nice moccasin slippers and I wore them all over the ship. In summary we loved this cruise and we loved the Roald Amundsen. The crew were excellent, the lectures were in general interesting and well presented, the landings were fantastic and we found the food very good with a large variety. Both my wife and I noted that throughout the cruise the fruit seemed fresh and very tasty which for a 17 day cruise seemed amazing. We were disappointed in some small things like the lack of transportation at the airport and the small tables in the dining room. The vast majority of the tables in Aune are for two people and we find the interaction of a larger group of people at dinner to be a significant part of our cruise. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
Beautiful ship, hybrid, professional team, lots to explore and see. Breath taking views of glaciers and icebergs, penguins, seals, birds, whales. We traveled through the Drake Passage which was the Drake Lake going in and the Drake Shake ... Read More
Beautiful ship, hybrid, professional team, lots to explore and see. Breath taking views of glaciers and icebergs, penguins, seals, birds, whales. We traveled through the Drake Passage which was the Drake Lake going in and the Drake Shake coming out but we expected that and were ready for it. The crew did an amazing job in all areas. From room cleaning to restaurants to lectures to spa to hanging out, you name it this crew was on top of things and a delight to be with. Loved every minute of it. Food was plentiful and always well stocked. Loved that they have a hand washing station before going to meals. Ship was always clean. We were well trained in how to get on and off the tenders and how to wash our boots when returning and vacuum our clothing so we didn't bring anything that didn't belong on shore when we visited each island. Captain was so friendly, funny and his crew the best. Loved every minute. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
G Expedition belongs to "G Adventures" which is a small group tour company with tours all over the world. Therefore if you are a single traveller you could choose to share a room instead of paying a single supplement. The crew ... Read More
G Expedition belongs to "G Adventures" which is a small group tour company with tours all over the world. Therefore if you are a single traveller you could choose to share a room instead of paying a single supplement. The crew is amazing and guest satisfaction is bigger than holding to a certain itinerary. I travelled with the tour called "Spirit of Shackelton" from Ushuaia to Falkland Islands (2 days), South Georgia (4 days) and Antartic Peninsula (5 days). Beforehand only this number was clear, but not where we will make landfall. And the crew made really the best afford to make the most landings as possible and we even made detours on the ship to follow a blow of a whale. Shore Excursions are all included and made with Zodiacs boats, so one should be able to enter such a boat. It's a mixture of landings and Zodiac boat cruises. (Bring at least waterproof trousers and a protection for your camera). We were provided (included in the price, to take home with you) with a water bottle, which could be filled the whole day at a water station and with a thick jacket. Also tea and coffee were available through the whole day for free. During sea days the crew gave lectures about nature, wildlife and history of the places we were visiting. And in the evening we had life music, movies and other entertainment in the Polar Bear Bar and in the Lounge. The food was amazing for such a small ship and only alcoholic beverages and fizzy drinks had to by bought, but still water was provided free to each meal. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
The whole experience from beginning to end was superb. We had been with Hurtigruten up the coast of Norway and so enjoyed it we wanted to do a longer cruise. Antarctica was our choice. We booked a suite and this did not disappoint. ... Read More
The whole experience from beginning to end was superb. We had been with Hurtigruten up the coast of Norway and so enjoyed it we wanted to do a longer cruise. Antarctica was our choice. We booked a suite and this did not disappoint. The advantages of the suite were many - breakfast in the a la carte restaurant, an invitation to eat in the a la carte restaurant in the evening, free mini bar until refilled, free laundry. An excursion ashore and a Cruise each day in a zodiac were exhilarating. The expedition staff were excellent with their knowledge and expertise and the organisation from collecting our boots to finding the right coach to leave was impeccable. The food was superb and the staff at all levels fantastic. We were extremely lucky with the weather and experiencing Antarctica in the sun is just glorious. We would hope highly recommend Hurtigruten. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
Cruise to very remote areas in a very comfortable way. Everything well arranged and problemfree. Dedicated expedition team, not only competent, but also pushing strongly to give its guest the best experience. Trip of a lifetime. Quite ... Read More
Cruise to very remote areas in a very comfortable way. Everything well arranged and problemfree. Dedicated expedition team, not only competent, but also pushing strongly to give its guest the best experience. Trip of a lifetime. Quite large cabin with double bed and WC/shower. Clean and maintained twice a day. Internet Connection available at extra charge. Worked OK even in very remote areas. Included meals 4 times a day. Extended buffes with wide selections of choice and friedly staff to assist. Panorama bar available with stunning view of the outside, Well organized information on all mandatory tasks, how and when and why. Day by day planning posted evening before. Efficient landing procudures to place all travellers ashore in notime. Very interesting seminars held frequently by the large and competent expedition team. And they where always prepared for changes. If A does not work there was always a plan B. Best trip ever. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
I have used Hurtigruten once before about 10 years ago (classic passage North) and enjoyed it. I chose this trip on the Fram based on that experience, reputation and price - but primarily the itinerary, which gave more time on South ... Read More
I have used Hurtigruten once before about 10 years ago (classic passage North) and enjoyed it. I chose this trip on the Fram based on that experience, reputation and price - but primarily the itinerary, which gave more time on South Georgia. Getting to Ushuaia and back was a bit of a faff, using their chartered LATAM aircraft, but it is hard to see a viable alternative. Once on the ship, I immediately felt at home. Having read that she was about to undergo a refit, I expected her to be a bit tatty, but no - she was pretty much immaculate. Clean, neat and well presented, with tasteful art work and décor. I only hope they do not lose the delightful ambiance of the public areas during the refit in a rush to be trendy. My cabin (328) was fine for one, but would have been a bit of a logistic challenge for two I think; but others managed fine. It was kept clean throughout the trip by excellent staff. Food was good overall, with excellent buffet breakfasts and lunches covering all tastes. On shore trip days the evening meal was a buffet, but on sea days it was a set piece evening meal with limited choice for main course. Sometimes it worked well but other times I fancied neither option. It also took ages to serve. But, we were there for the scenery and wildlife. which we had in abundance. The weather was brilliant almost all of the time and the truly excellent expedition team got us ashore looking at things twice a day, most days. When they could not (due to swell usually)there was always a plan B, such as cruising around a glacier. The grand finale was crossing the Polar Circle. Altogether, I thought it was an excellent cruise and very good value for money Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
Antarctica/South Georgia was number one on my travel wish list (having recently checked off #'s 2 and 3... gorilla trekking and Papua New Guinea). I had been looking for more than a decade for an Antarctica cruise and found a great ... Read More
Antarctica/South Georgia was number one on my travel wish list (having recently checked off #'s 2 and 3... gorilla trekking and Papua New Guinea). I had been looking for more than a decade for an Antarctica cruise and found a great deal for this cruise a couple of months before departure. It was truly the trip of a lifetime (which is saying a great deal considering I've visited over 100 countries, every continent, and every world wonder). Everything about this cruise was near perfect. The staff, crew, servers, expedition crew were top rate. The lectures were interesting and the Seasick Band and crew performances fun and lively. The passengers were all upbeat and positive. I heard no complaints or negativity, which is very rare on a cruise. The food was excellent, plentiful and offered a good selection at each meal. I was amazed that we had fresh fruit and salads for the duration of the 21-day cruise. Embarkation and disembarkation were a breeze as were the transfers to and from the airport. Bags were ready when I arrived on the vessel. I felt safe getting in and out of the zodiacs for the shore excursions. Everyone seemed very well trained. The itinerary was as good as it gets. Three days in the Falklands, 5 days in South Georgia and 6 days in Antarctica. Having good weather (except on our Stanley landing) was a big bonus. We only missed one landing due to elephant seals blocking the landing at one site. Instead, we took a cruise in the zodiacs along the shore to see macaroni penguins and later among the icebergs and ice floes which were stunning. There were a few landings that we weren't sure would happen, however, the captain always managed to find a way. In addition to a rare stop at Signy, in the South Orkneys (only 4 visits allowed per season), we were also fortunate to cross the Antarctic Polar Circle and were able to do a landing there as well. I was pleased with my cabin on the 3rd floor with a porthole. Since it was only myself, it was more than spacious and would have been fine for 2 persons (though another large suitcase may have been tough to store... I guess it would have fit under the bed). One of the beds could be made into a couch, so it was comfortable for using my laptop and watching TV. There was a desk, television and the shower had good water pressure and reliable hot water (I shower at night, so I can't speak for any peak showering times). The internet worked quite well throughout... with only a few times being spotty for short periods. I thought the landings were well timed, allowing enough time for some rest and lunch between the morning and afternoon landings. We were kept pretty busy, so there was no time for boredom. I also liked the Fram... I could certainly understand why there were so many repeat Hurtigruten passengers. I would definitely love to go on another cruise with Hurtigruten. In fact, I've already started looking for my next cruise! This was by far the best cruise I have ever taken and I would highly recommend Hurtigruten to anyone (and already have). Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
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 ... Read More
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) [Note: This is the itinerary we followed. Each expedition is unique; the actual sites visited depend on the weather and sea conditions during that expedition.] Argentina: Buenos Aires, Ushuaia Falkland Islands: Saunders Island, West Point Island South Georgia: Fortuna Bay, Grytviken, St. Andrews Bay, Cooper Bay Antarctic Peninsula: Portal Point, Neko Harbor, Paradise Bay, Lemaire Channel ABOUT THE REVIEW Our reviews are primarily a journal of what we did each day, including links to tourist sites and maps. However, this was our first cruise with Ponant, so we have included more details about the on board experience (especially the food and wine) and made some comparisons to our Golden Princess cruise and Ocean Adventurer expedition. Prior to the Le Soléal expedition, we spent two days in Buenos Aires. ABOUT US John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our late sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. I already had an Argentinian flag from previous trips but I hoped to obtain a Tierra del Fuego provincial flag, which features an albatross. We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. We have cruised to or toured all seven continents, primarily in the Americas and Europe. On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, towers, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up for a good view. Previously, we have taken “soft adventures” to the Galapagos Islands on the Celebrity Xpedition (www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=77850) and to Machu Picchu with G Adventures (www.smartertravel.com/short-inca-trail-machu-picchu/). We have also taken an expedition cruise to the Canadian Arctic and West Greenland on the Ocean Adventurer with Quark Expeditions (boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2716812-trip-report-2019-%E2%80%9Cnorthwest-passage-epic-high-arctic%E2%80%9D-on-the-ocean-adventurer-quark-expeditions/). BOOKING WITH PONANT We booked our expedition directly with Ponant (us.ponant.com) by phone 23 months ahead to take advantage of the early booking discount. Our package included the domestic flights between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, transfers in Ushuaia, lunch at the Arakur Hotel, a guided walk through the Cerro Alarkén Natural Reserve, on board gratuities and open bar. As first-time guests, we also received $250 pp on board credit. We could not receive any referral OBC because all our friends who had previously traveled with Ponant had booked through Tauck. We purchased travel insurance through SquareMouth (www.squaremouth.com). Dealing with Ponant is exasperating. The “My Ponant” website is essentially useless: unlike many other cruise lines, it cannot be used to make a partial payment or to enter passenger information. It does have downloadable copies of the required passenger forms; however, they cannot be submitted through the website. When forms are submitted by email (as directed), there is no indication on the website that they have been received and no email acknowledgment is sent. [Note: The day before we started our trip, Ponant launched a marginally improved website.] Emailing Ponant returns a canned reply that promises a personal response within 48 hours; I never received any response at all to most of my inquiries. The only way to get through to Ponant was by telephone. Although partial payments could be made that way, I did not always receive correct information about my booking. For example, two weeks after emailing the required medical forms, I called and was assured that those had been received and all our other paperwork was in order. Shortly after, I received an email that my medical form had been received but my husband’s had not (they were sent as attachments in the same email). I resent John’s form and finally received email confirmation that all was in order. Final documents were not emailed until 23 days before sailing and hard copies were delivered by FedEx a few days later. SUGGESTED RESOURCES Antarctica FAQs antarcticafaqs.boards.net/ Antarctic Adventures Forum www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g1-i12337-Antarctic_Adventures.html “Antarctica: A Guide to the Wildlife (Bradt Travel Guide)” (2018) by Tony Soper (Author), Dafila Scott (Illustrator) www.amazon.com/Antarctica-Guide-Wildlife-Bradt-Travel/dp/1784770914/ “Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent” by Gabrielle Walker www.amazon.com/Antarctica-Intimate-Portrait-Mysterious-Continent/dp/0151015201/ “Wild Sea: A History of the Southern Ocean” by Joy McCann www.amazon.com/Wild-Sea-History-Southern-Ocean/dp/022662238X/ “Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing www.amazon.com/Endurance-Shackletons-Incredible-Alfred-Lansing-ebook/dp/B00IC8VF10/ “Shackleton” (2002) The true story of Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole, and his epic struggle to lead his twenty-eight man crew to safety after his ship, Endurance, was crushed in the pack ice. This two-episode miniseries stars Kenneth Branagh as Shackleton. www.imdb.com/title/tt0272839/ “Chasing Shackleton” (2014) This four-part series follows a modern expedition team as they attempt to duplicate Shackleton's 800-mile boat journey across the Southern Ocean in a replica of the lifeboat James Caird and his mountain crossing of South Georgia, using only the clothing, tools and supplies that Shackleton's team used. www.pbs.org/show/chasing-shackleton/ PRECRUISE IN BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA FRIDAY, JANUARY 31, 2020—RALEIGH/DURHAM (RDU), NC, USA TO BUENOS AIRES (EZE), ARGENTINA We planned to arrive in Buenos Aires two days ahead of the expedition. We chose to connect in Atlanta, rather than Miami, to avoid possible flight delays due to Super Bowl LIV, which would take place in Miami on February 2. Moreover, airplane ticket prices were much higher for a departure on February 1. Our Delta flight encountered turbulence on the way to Atlanta and arrived late, we still had several hours to relax in The Club using our Priority Pass membership. The lounge was crowded when we arrived but John spotted a table and we enjoyed the food and drinks until it was time to head to the gate for our Delta flight to Buenos Aires. With our sleep aids, eye masks, industrial-strength ear plugs and signs asking the flight attendants not to disturb us, we managed to sleep fairly well for most of the 10.5-hour flight. Buenos Aires is only two hours ahead of EST, so we did not have to deal with jet-lag. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2020—BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA We awoke shortly before breakfast was served; the less said about that, the better—we just needed some calories. It was a breakfast sandwich and not very appetizing. Our flight had encountered turbulence and was late; we arrived at about 10:30 a.m. Customs and immigration took about 30 minutes. We made all of our precruise arrangements (airport transfers, hotel tours) through Defrantur (www.defrantur.com.ar/ingles/). This is the third time we have used their services in Argentina and we are still impressed with them; everything was seamless and superb. Our driver, Juan Carlos, handled all of our transportation needs during our visit; he was waiting when we exited customs. The airport is pretty far from the downtown area; it took about 30-40 min, with lots of toll stops, to reach our hotel, the Howard Johnson Plaza Florida Street. Avenida Florida is a pedestrian shopping street but the hotel is easily accessible from a few meters away on Avenida Santa Fe near Plaza General San Martín. That is where Juan Carlos would pick us up for our tours and drop us off afterward. At the hotel, we were greeted by the owner of Defrantur, Ricardo De Franco, who went over our tour program with us and made some suggestions for our stay in Buenos Aires. We paid him the balance owed for our land tour in USD (a deposit had already been made by AmEx credit card). Ricardo also helped us exchange some dollars to pesos and presented us with a nice bottle of Rutini Trumpeter Reserve, Uco Valley, Argentina 2017 (malbec). This four-star Howard Johnson (www.wyndhamhotels.com/hojo/buenos-aires-argentina/howard-johnson-plaza-florida-street/overview/) is in an excellent location, near several of the main attractions in the Retiro neighborhood of Buenos Aires. The economy in Argentina has been doing poorly and there are always touts outside the front entrance offering to exchange money. You enter down a short hall lined with a couple of shops. There is an elevator to the lobby one floor up and there is also an apparently non-working escalator. Our room was quite nice, really spacious, with free wifi and a safe in the room; a good buffet breakfast is included in the room rate. As we expected, there were no washcloths but toiletries included dispensers of hand soap, body lotion, shampoo and conditioner; there was bar soap for the shower. Our room was ready when we arrived so, after a short break to freshen up, we were ready to meet Juan Carlos for our Parana River Delta boat tour. The drive from the hotel to the Terminal Fluvial in the town of Tigre took about 1.25 hours. On the way, we passed through some of the upscale residential neighborhoods of Buenos Aires: Olivos, Martinez, San Isidro, San Fernando. Juan Carlos showed us points of interest, such as Quinta de Olivos (1854), a National Historic Monument and one of the official residences of the president of Argentina. We also drove by the neo-Gothic Catedral de San Isidro (1898). There are several boat companies offering tours of the Delta; Juan Carlos bought tickets for us with Sturla. The one-hour panoramic tour features commentary in English and Spanish plus a snack (coffee and muffin). This is obviously a popular weekend activity for families. We had to wait about half an hour for the tour to start, so we walked along the Tigre River and around the Terminal area. There was an arts and crafts fair, sponsored by the Women Entrepreneurs of Tigre, going on under bright purple tents. We boarded a motor launch and cruised down the Tigre River to the Luján River, one of the many waterways that make up the Delta. Motoring up the Luján, we passed the Museo de Arte de Tigre, housed in an ornate belle-époque building that was formerly a social club. The boat takes you around an area with really nice houses and some older, even abandoned ones. There is a little of everything: weekend houses, brightly-painted wooden shacks, rowing clubs, marinas, schools, churches. There are no roads to the houses so everything (mail delivery, garbage pickup, etc.) is done by boat. It reminded us of the fishing camps along Lake Pontchartrain, outside New Orleans, merged with Venice, Italy. As we returned along the Sarmiento River, we passed Casa Museo Sarmiento, a small house inside a glass enclosure. That was the home of Argentina’s 7th president and is a National Historic Monument. As we approached the dock at the end of the tour, we passed the old fruit market (now a shopping area) and an amusement park. The boat ride is pleasant but not overwhelming. However, it was a nice way to enjoy an afternoon outside of Buenos Aires and fun to see a different way of life! The return drive was on a highway, so it only took about an hour to get back to the hotel. We tried some of the malbec before taking a half-hour nap. Then it was off to a 2.5-hour wine tasting, “Argentina Wine Route,” which was held at La Cava del Querandí (lacavadelquerandi.com.ar) in the San Telmo neighborhood. This was a public tour; in addition to us there were one Russian living in Germany and group of 14 Danes with their guide. We descended to the wine cellar, where we were served three Argentinian wines, each matched with a different food. The Las Arcas de Tolombon “Siete Vacas,” Calchaqui Valley 2018 (torrontes) was served with a beef empanada, the Videla Dorna Calfulen Reserva, Patagonia 2018 (pinot noir) with an onion-mushroom tart and the DiamAndes DiamAndina, Uco Valley 2017 (malbec) with a beef, onion and green pepper skewer. The empanada was oddly good with the torrontes! The presentation of the wines and food was done well, factually accurate and nicely detailed. Back at the hotel, we finished off the malbec and settled in for a good night’s sleep. SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2020—BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA This morning we had a good breakfast at the hotel. There was plenty of time before our 12:30 p.m. food tour, so we went for a walk. Only a few blocks from the hotel is Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento (turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar/en/atractivo/basílica-del-santísimo-sacramento). We considered going inside to view the ornate gold and silver decorations but were discouraged by the panhandlers outside. [Note: I had seen several reviews saying that this was Pope Francis’ church when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires; I think they are confusing this Basilica with the Metropolitan Cathedral.] Instead, we walked to the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve (vamospanish.com/discover/ecological-reserve-reserva-ecologica-buenos-aires-argentina/) along the Rio de la Plata. We did a hot and dusty 6 mile (10 k) hike; there were nice views of the river and many pretty blooming lapacho (pink flowers) trees. There were lots of joggers, cyclists and walkers out enjoying a nice day in the park—all within view of the downtown skyscrapers. On the way back to the hotel, we were confronted with the “bird poop scam.” I happened to notice that John had kicked up mud on the back of his pants leg. But wait—there was no mud around! I glanced behind and saw a man gaining on us—he wasn’t even trying to hide the squirt bottle with which he had liberally sprayed black, smelly (like vinegar) liquid all over the back of our shirts and pants. Usually the scammer sprays you surreptitiously and just happens to have tissues and water to help you clean off the “bird poop” while he is cleaning out your pockets. As John quipped later, “What kind of bird was this supposed to be? A condor?” Anyway, I immediately realized what was going down and we moved away quickly. Back at the hotel we had to wash out our pants and shirts in the sink, then dry them using the towel squeeze and hair dryer method. Good thing they are all made of quick-dry fabric. What an aggravation though! Still slightly damp and smelling faintly of vinegar, we went down to meet Juan Carlos to go to the Parrilla Tour (parrillatour.com) in the Las Cañitas section of the Palermo neighborhood. We met our guide, Laura, outside La Cañita. We were the only two people on the three-hour tour today! At La Cañita, Laura introduced us to a popular aperitvo, Gancia Americano Bianco mixed with seltzer water. Americano is an Italian vermouth and has a distinct citrus taste. The food tasting started with berenjenas en escabeche (eggplant ceviche). We love all things eggplant, so it was hard not to eat it all. However, we saw the two choripáns that had appeared and knew we should pace ourselves for a long afternoon of eating. Choripán is an immensely popular street food and was one of my eating goals for this trip. It is a butterflied chorizo sausage grilled and served between slices of crusty bread with two traditional sauces: chimichuri and criollo. Laura talked about food history and flavors and tradition. Chorizo in Argentina is not spicy like Mexican chorizo because of the strong influence of Italian heritage on the food here. OK, we ate every bite; so much for pacing. The next stop was at La Guitarrita, where the walls are covered with futbol (soccer) memorabilia and pictures of futbol stars. They make several kinds of empanadas there but Laura ordered beef for us, which she said are supposed to be eaten in the hand. These are baked and she explained that empanadas are cooked differently in different parts of Argentina: baked, fried or cooked on the grill. Also, the beef is cut into small pieces, not ground. The empanadas were delicious and served with Etchart Cafayate Reserve, Salta, Argentina 2017 (torrontes) poured liberally from a pitcher shaped like a penguin! Laura pointed to the word “Cafayate” and asked how I would pronounce it. When I said cah-fah-YAH-tay, she said in Argentina it is cah-fah-SHAH-tay. She got a menu for us to keep as a souvenir and went through the various items. When she got to the chicken empanadas, she said “pollo” is PO-sho. That is the kind of detail that we love about these tours and Laura was exceptionally informative! Both of those stops were just the warm up for lunch at Las Cholas, parrilla et hornito de campo (grill and field oven). Although we already had had three starters, we had another one: provoleta grillade (also on my “must eat” list). This dish is a large slice of provolone, topped with herbs and spices and grilled in a cast iron skillet. This can be eaten as-is or with bread; we sent the bread away—no sense wasting valuable stomach space. Finally it was showtime: Argentinian beef (on John’s “must eat” list)! Out came two huge platters, each a main course, one piled with bife de chorizo (NY strip sirloin steak) and the other with vacio (flank steak). In addition to chimichuri and criollo, pebre (similar to pico de gallo) accompanied the meat. Not to mention that there were side dishes: mashed roasted pumpkin, rice, piles of French fries (one “a caballo” with a fried egg on top) and grilled onions and peppers. From our previous visits to Argentina, we knew that this staggering amount of food is considered normal for two people to eat. Although we did our best to devour this carnivore’s dream (Laura refused all but one slice of the sirloin) we had to admit defeat because we knew dessert was coming. To help all this go down, we consumed a bottle of Las Perdices, Agrelo, Argentina 2018 (malbec). Somehow, we still had room for ice cream (helado) at Persicco, a local chain of heladerías. John had dulce de leche and I had chocolate suizo. This was a wonderful ending to our food tour! Laura was a fantastic guide and we would highly recommend this tour to anyone who wants the chance to sample the cuisine of Buenos Aires. Juan Carlos picked us up at the heladería. We had originally planned for him to drop us off at the San Telmo Antiques Market, then walk back to the hotel on our own. However, we were stuffed and the market was almost over, so we had him take us back to the hotel. We also realized that we would not be able to eat again later that night at the restaurant where Defrantur had made a reservation for us, so we asked the hotel to cancel our reservation. We can only handle so much food! REVIEW OF THE EXPEDITION DAY 1: MONDAY 3 FEBRUARY 2020—BUENOS AIRES (AEP) TO USHUAIA (USH), ARGENTINA This morning we were still so full from yesterday’s food tour that we didn’t even check to see whether some items might have been available early on the breakfast buffet. Ricardo had told us to wait in the hotel lobby for Juan Carlos and not go outside to our usual meeting point on Santa Fe. We were ready for our 6:30 a.m. pickup and saw a number of homeless people sleeping in doorways. Our Aerolineas Argentina flight to Ushuaia left from the domestic airport, Airport Jorge Newbery (AEP), at 8:55 a.m. We were supposed to check at 6:55 a.m., so we arrived with plenty of time and in advance of most of the crowd. There were two local Ponant contacts with clipboards to check off our names and make sure that we had a Ponant tag with our cabin number on our checked bags. After that, we could join the line to get our boarding passes and check luggage; I was also able to add our Delta SkyMiles numbers to our reservations. Checked luggage was limited to 50 lbs (23 kg) and carry-ons to 22 lbs (10 kg). Our checked bags were 44 lbs (20 kg) and 26 lbs (12 kg)—no problem. Our carry-ons were not weighed. After that, we proceeded to the departures area, which is upstairs on the other end of the airport. There are two security areas: one for flights going north and the other for flights going south. Everyone seemed to be going south, so there was a long line waiting to go through security. Nevertheless, we arrived at the gate about 45 minutes after Juan Carlos dropped us off. There was an earlier flight to Ushuaia and people were still queued up for it. We were traveling the week after the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in China started to make headlines; several cruise ships had already been quarantined because of possible infections aboard. We saw a few people at the airport wearing paper masks, not realizing that a virus is a really tiny thing and the masks don’t keep it out. Like other travel companies, Ponant was scrambling to deal with this issue. We had to fill out two health forms (one on the plane and one on the ship) swearing that we did not have any symptoms and had not been to China recently. The ship’s doctor examined everyone’s passport to look for passport stamps from China. We did have a number of Chinese passengers; I guess they were not running a fever or showing other symptoms as we are not aware that anyone was denied boarding. The flight to Ushuaia, which means means “the bay which looks towards the east” in the Yámana language, took 3.5 hours and a forgettable breakfast was served. Once we arrived, we collected our checked luggage and turned it over to Ponant staff; we would next see it in our cabin. Then we were directed to buses, depending on our language and whether or not we were taking the optional (extra cost) excursion to the Tierra del Fuego National Park (www.argentina.gob.ar/parquesnacionales/tierradelfuego). John and I had visited Ushuaia (turismoushuaia.com/zonas/ciudad-ushuaia/?lang=en_US) twice previously and already toured the national park. We chose the included excursion to a beautiful lodge overlooking the Beagle Channel, the Arakur Ushuaia (arakur.com/en/). Along the way, our local guide gave us a short panoramic tour of the highlights of Ushuaia. Once at the resort, we were served a beautiful buffet lunch in the La Cravia restaurant. The meats from the fabulous grill stole the show (it is Argentina after all!)—rib eye, flank steak, chorizo—all washed down with Zuccardi Serie A, Uco Valley, Argentina 2018 (malbec). The resort is set in the Cerro Alarkén Nature Reserve and after lunch we had the choice of a 30-minute or an hour-long guided walk to various overlooks. Naturally, we picked the longer hike, which first went to a turbal (peat bog) as our guide pointed out the different native trees and plants. Then we climbed to the summit of Cerro Alarkén for a 360° view of Ushuaia Bay, the Beagle Channel and the surrounding Martial and Vinciguerra mountain ranges. We would have liked to hike more of the trails (www.floxie.com.ar/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/cerro-alarken-chico.jpg) on our own but it was time to move on to our ship! [Note: there were no flags in the resort gift shop and there was no time allotted to shop in Ushuaia.] We were bused to the cruise pier at about 4 p.m.; the Seabourn Quest and Scenic Eclipse were also in port. We were welcomed aboard Le Soléal by the crew with a glass of Veuve Cliquot champagne and another health form. We could return the form to Reception later and give an imprint of our credit card. We also received our ID cards, which would be scanned whenever we embarked or disembarked the ship. Because these were also our cabin keys, we had to carry them with us instead of leaving them in the pocket on the left parka sleeve (as we did on the Ocean Adventurer). After that, we went to our cabin to unpack. We had booked a Deluxe Stateroom with balcony, located midships on the port side; it was exactly what we had expected from the photos on the Ponant website. The cabin was larger (198 ft2/18.4 m2, 43 ft2/4 m2 balcony) than our Main Deck Twin Window cabin on the Ocean Adventurer (115 ft2/10.7 m2, no balconies on the OA) but smaller than our minisuite on the Golden Princess (323 ft2/30 m2, balcony included). One side of the cabin has the wardrobe and a long shelf that holds a tray with bottles of water (sparkling and still), the telephone, a lamp and a folio with information on the ship and cabin. There is a mirror above the shelf; beneath it is a hassock and the included minibar. There are a chair and table between the window and the comfortable double bed. There is a small shelf next to each side of the bed but no drawers; the ledge under the window made convenient a storage space for small items, like binoculars. There was a fair amount of room in the wardrobe for our clothing but hanging space was really tight once we added our bulky parkas. There are a shelf (holding full-size life jackets) above the clothing rod and three smaller shelves above the safe; slippers and bathrobes are provided. There are also laundry bags and lists in the wardrobe. We spent most of our OBC on laundry; prices ranged from 1€ for underwear to 12€ for a two-piece suit (washable only—there is no dry cleaning). Items sent out in the morning were returned late the next afternoon. Next to the door are only two hooks, which held umbrellas. I put the umbrellas in the wardrobe so we could hang our parkas, waterproof pants and life vests on them. We really missed the convenient shelf and four hooks next to the door on the Ocean Adventurer, where we could hang those items. There is only one sink in the bathroom, with three small shelves on one side and two drawers underneath. One of the drawers holds vanity kits (cotton pads and sticks), sewing kits and shower caps. Next to the sink are small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion as well as a bar of soap; those toiletries are “Un Jardin sur Le Nil” by Hermès. The shower is roomy and has glass doors. Bath linens are mat, bath towels, hand towels and face cloths. Although there was a sign asking us to reuse towels, there is no place to hang them up to dry. The toilet is in a separate compartment and equipped with scratchy French toilet paper. After inspecting the cabin we toured the ship. That doesn’t take long: the Observatory Lounge and Terrace, Bridge and Medical Center are in the bow; the two restaurants, Library, Studio (ship photographer), Spa, Theater and Main Lounge are in the stern; the Reception and Excursion desks and the Shop are midships. This is definitely an upscale ship with lovely décor. Now it was time for the lifeboat drill. We had to wear our full-size life jackets to the muster station in the Theater, where our ID cards were scanned. Although this is a non-smoking ship, there is a distinct cigarette smoke odor in the Theater, probably residue from the smokers’ clothing. The life vests have weird connectors that we had not encountered before. After a briefing on safety and evacuation procedures, we were directed to the lifeboats so we could see where and how we would board them. Between the lifeboat drill and dinner was a good time to have drinks (Jameson and 3-year-old Havana rum) in the Main Lounge as we sailed away from Ushuaia. There was a nice selection of alcohol included with the open bar and we were wondering why we needed a minibar in the cabin. While in the lounge, a fellow CruiseCritic member (Cruize) recognized me from my profile photo; he and his wife are from New Zealand and would be taking an “Around the Horn” cruise on the Coral Princess after disembarking Le Soléal in Buenos Aires. Nice people! As the sun went down, there was a beautiful rainbow in the east. Open seating dinner is usually served from 7:30-9 p.m., with table service in the L’Eclipse Restaurant and self-service in the Le Pythéas Restaurant (buffet). We had dinner every night in L’Eclipse, sometimes by ourselves and other times sharing a table with another English-speaking couple. Each meal began with an amuse-bouche. The five-course dinners usually included two soups, three starters, three main courses, a cheese course and three desserts or ice cream/sorbet or a sliced fruit plate. Each dish was labeled (gluten free, lactose free, etc.) to assist those with dietary constraints. There were some “always available” items: Caesar salad, green salad, fish, steak, other meat or poultry, hamburger and various vegetable/starch options. Tonight’s amuse-bouche was pumpkin mousse topped by chestnut mousse, which we followed with a savory clafouti of morel mushrooms and asparagus. The haddock in white butter sauce was good and the porcini mushroom risotto was excellent. The cheese plate was undistinguished; a much better selection would prove to be available every day at lunch. John enjoyed one of his favorite desserts, crème brûlée, and I had strawberry profiteroles with raspberry sorbet. Each night there was a different assortment of included wines (almost always French): two whites, a rosé and two reds. Today’s group was Jardin des Charmes, Coteaux de Béziers 2018 (chardonnay), Château Haut-Bellian, AOC Bordeaux 2018 (sauvignon blanc, sémillon), Croix Salans, IGP Pays D’Oc 2017 (grenache, cinsault), La Tête Ailleurs, IGP Pays D’Oc 2018 (grenache, syrah), Guillaume Aurèle, Pays D’Oc 2018 (merlot). There are two sommeliers (Antoine and Bryan) who alternate between the dining room and the buffet. They would be happy to help us choose a premium (starting at about 70€) bottle from the extensive wine list. The included wines were good but young. In general they went well with the food that was served. After dinner, we went to the Theater to be fitted for our red parkas with numerous patches; I felt like a NASCAR driver. Although the parkas are waterproof and quite warm, they are not as nice as the Quark ones, which have larger pockets and a removable liner. They would probably be much too hot to wear during our day in the Falkland Islands and perhaps in South Georgia. There is bad news on the COVID-19 front for the Diamond Princess, which is currently ending a January 20-February 3 cruise roundtrip from Yokohama. (We are booked on this ship for April 2021.) A passenger who embarked in Tokyo and disembarked in Hong Kong tested positive on February 1, so Japanese public health authorities were reviewing the health status of all guests and crew. There were 3,711 persons ( 2,666 passengers and  1,045 crew members) on board. About half the passengers were from Japan. DAY 2: TUESDAY 4 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA This was a nice day with air temperatures throughout the day around 50°F (10°C). This morning we saw albatrosses (wandering and black-browed for sure, maybe royal) following the ship and another ship on the horizon. Because Tokyo is 12 hours ahead, we were already hearing that the Diamond Princess’ next voyage was canceled while the health reviews continued. After experiencing a Le Soléal dinner, we realized that we could not maintain our svelte figures if we ate three full meals a day. Fortunately, in addition to a full breakfast with many options in the two restaurants, there is a continental breakfast served in the Main Lounge. Sometimes we indulged in a pastry and decaf cappuccino; other days we just had a decaf cappuccino. Le Soléal being a French ship, announcements are made in both French and English; presentations are given separately in each language. We never were told the exact passenger count or breakdown, but we heard that there were 176 guests, of whom about half were French speakers. From our interactions with other guests, we guessed that there were about a dozen from the USA and maybe twice that many from Australia and New Zealand. Mid-morning, we went to the Theater to be welcomed by Captain Daher and the Expedition Leader, Pierre. They gave an overview of the itinerary and introduced the other 11 members of the Expedition Team. The guides’ specialties included history (2), biology, marine biology (2), marine ecology, entomology, glaciology, ice/climate/geology, plants/geomorphology and birds. I was surprised that the Team was so small: the team on the Ocean Adventurer was twice as large for fewer (118) guests. Most of the Team’s on board presentations were very good, but some were disorganized, especially Pierre’s. Sign-up sheets were available to schedule dinner with the guides and they were always ready to answer questions. Later we had mandatory briefings about IAATO environmental and safety rules and about zodiac safety. Our ID cards were scanned and we had to sign a list verifying that we had attended the briefings. On the way out of the Theater, we were handed our zodiac life vests. Open seating lunch is usually served from 12-2 p.m. and usually has a theme. There is table service in the L’Eclipse Restaurant and self-service in the Le Pythéas Restaurant (buffet). We initially chose to eat lunch in the buffet. However, it is very crowded because it is too cold to eat outside on the deck. Whichever venue you choose, there is an excellent and varied selection of six cheeses (Gorgonzola Dolce, Provolone, Camembert, Chèvre, Comté, Curé Nantais, Saint Nectaire, Elutcha des Cabasses, Marotte de Larzac and many more) available every day. Today lunch was a seafood buffet. We sampled several dishes, some good, some just OK. The seafood au gratin was surprisingly good as was the thinly sliced octopus; the skate wing was OK, not great. The shrimp served with the squid ink risotto were excellent but the risotto itself was gummy. The wine selection was the same as last night except that the Guillaume Aurèle was replaced by a different merlot, Jardin des Charmes, Coteaux de Béziers 2018. We drooled over the dessert display but that way lies madness. In the mid-afternoon, there was a lecture by Mitya on “In the Heart of the Seas: the History of the Falkland Islands.” He is an interesting speaker but maybe runs a touch long. While that lecture was presented in French by Alizée, the English-speakers repaired to the Main Lounge for our boot fitting and zodiac group assignment. The boots ran much larger than we expected from our running shoe sizes; I got a 39 and John got a 40. The boots are stored on a mat outside the cabin door. There were four zodiac groups (Red, Blue, Green, Yellow) of roughly equal size; we were put in the Red group and a red sticker was placed on our ID card. Disembarkation rotates among the groups, so there is really no advantage to being in any particular one. Afternoon tea with treats is served at 4 p.m. everyday in the Main Lounge. That is the same time that the Observatory Lounge opens, so we usually went there for a more stimulating beverage. The bar steward, Wayan, quickly learned our names and preference for an extra-dirty vodka martini. On other days, I had a Bloody Mary, mojito or glass of house champagne (Charles Heidsieck Brut). A very nice place to read and watch the ocean go by! Tonight was the first of three “formal” nights—the Captain’s Gala Evening. A large number of people dressed up but many others stuck with casual dress. We were somewhere in the middle: white silk shirt, pearls and black travel pants for me; white travel shirt, tie, cream sweater vest and black travel pants for John. Nobody looks at anybody’s feet (well, maybe some of the women do) so we wore our black running shoes with black socks. There were too many clothes to pack for this trip to waste weight on extra shoes! The evening started with welcome cocktails (Veuve Cliquot) and hors d’oeuvres with Captain Daher in the Theater. After the Captain spoke a few words, we all proceeded to the L’Eclipse restaurant, where the gala fixed menu was served to everyone at the same time. The two menu choices were classic or vegetarian. Tonight’s amuse-bouche was halibut, avocado and cilantro jelly topped with sweet potato chips. The classic menu featured both a cold starter (salmon gravlax with caviar) and a hot starter (duck foie gras), a main course of lobster in a casserole with artichokes and potatoes, a crispy pistachio dessert and mignardises (sweet treats: tiny chocolate tarts and flavored marshmallows). The meal was very good, especially the lobster dish; the amuse-bouche was again excellent. The wines offered were La Chablisienne, AOC Chablis 2015 (chardonnay); Croix Salans, IGP Pays D’Oc 2017 (grenache, cinsault); Château Siaurac, AOC Lalande de Pomerol 2013 (merlot, cabernet sauvignon). A special wine pairing was offered tonight. We and our table mates (two Australian physicians) wanted to do the pairing but the minimum number needed was not met. In the Main Lounge after dinner, there was a short show, “Love, Love, Love,” by the ship’s five-member dance troupe, Paris C’Show. The production was small but spirited and good. Other entertainment options included live music by the Le Soléal musicians in the Main Lounge and a pianist in the Observatory Lounge. DAY 3: WEDNESDAY 5 FEBRUARY 2020—SAUNDERS ISLAND & WEST POINT ISLAND, FALKLAND ISLANDS Bad news about the Diamond Princess: 10 cases of COVID-19 were detected and the ship will remain in quarantine in Yokohama Harbor until February 19. The forecast for today was partly cloudy with air temperatures throughout the day around 50°F (10°C). Despite being quite windy, it turned out to be a wonderful day for our first expeditions. We have previously made two port calls to Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands (www.falklandislands.com), which is on East Falkland. On those visits, we had seen Commerson’s dolphins, flightless steamer ducks and Magellanic, gentoo and king penguins. Today we would visit two islands to the northwest of West Falkland. For our early (7:30 a.m.) morning excursion, we wore our basic underwear, light long underwear bottoms, a base layer LS shirt, liner socks and wool blend mid-weight socks. That was topped with the Ponant parka, life vest and waterproof pants (not insulated). We also wore hats and fleece glove liners under waterproof gloves. We did not use backpacks or waterproof bags—John put his camera and the hiking Garmin in the pockets of his parka. I had brought collapsible hiking poles but ended up not using them for any of the landings. We were supposed to carry our boots to the Main Lounge and don them there. We walked to the lounge in our socks but a few people wore their shoes or slippers and left them in the lounge. From the lounge, we walked over to the top of the stairs leading down to the Marina and our ID cards were scanned. The dancers helped line us up to go ashore. After descending the stairs, we walked through a trough of disinfectant solution before descending a few more steps to the zodiac landing platform. This was definitely easier than taking the steep metal stairs down to the tiny metal loading platform on the Ocean Adventurer! Red was the first group and we were in the first zodiac ashore on Saunders Island (www.falklandislands.com/explore/the-islands/saunders-island). The ride over was somewhat rough and I got a good splashing. Rubber mats were placed on the rocky landing site to give us better footing; there were two crew members in dry suits to pull in the zodiacs and help us ashore. We landed near the South Beach of “The Neck”, an isthmus connecting two parts of the island. We walked independently up a slight rise and then above the beach, following the red flags set out by the Expedition Team. We saw gentoo penguins everywhere and many seabirds (brown and south polar skuas, kelp gulls, oyster catchers, Falkland steamer ducks, imperial shags). At one end of the beach was a rusted trypot, used by sealers to render oil from penguins and seals. We then turned inland across The Neck to the North Beach, where we saw upland geese and even more penguins. Rockhopper, gentoo and a small group of king penguins stood closer to the water and Magellanic penguins milled around near their burrows on the hillside. Saunders Island is a working sheep farm and we saw a number of those as we climbed up the slopes of Mt. Richards to reach two black-browed albatross colonies. Along the way, we saw the bleached bones of a whale skeleton. In the colonies there were many fluffy gray albatross chicks, maybe a month from fledging, sitting on their volcano-like mud nests. There were also striated caracaras looking to prey on weak or injured chicks. Before we walked back over The Neck to the landing site, we walked out on North Beach, keeping an eye out for fur seals (we didn’t see any) that might be lounging in the tussock grass. The walk this morning was supposed to be 2 km (1.2 mi) but we measured 2.1 miles (3.4 km) on the Garmin; the elevation gain was 181 feet (55 m). As we expected, the parkas were much too warm even with just a base layer underneath. Back on the ship, we had to scrub and disinfect our boots before removing them to enter the ship. The dancers again helped out by checking our boots and blasting them with high pressure water if they are not clean enough. Lunch was a Mediterranean buffet with pissaladière (onion, black olive and anchovy tart) and eggplant Parmigiana. John discovered the ice cream station—bad for our waistline but great ice cream. Lunch wines were Moulin de Gassac, IGP Pays D’Hérault 2018 (carignan, terret); Château Mas Neuf, AOC Costières de Nîmes 2017 (roussanne, grenache); and Moulin de Gassac, IGP Pays D’Hérault 2018 (syrah, grenache). The Croix Salans (grenache, cinsault) and Guillaume Aurèle (merlot) were back again. In the afternoon we landed at West Point Island (www.falklandislands.com/explore/the-islands/west-point-island), another privately-owned farm. The zodiac ride was less rough this time. We landed at the farm dock and the Red group was first ashore again. This was another self-guided hike across open, rolling countryside with wonderful scenery. There was a four-wheel drive vehicle to transport the mobility-challenged. John and I were the first to hike to the end of the trail at the Devil’s Nose, a rocky promontory with dramatic sandstone cliffs, but the people in the 4WD got there first. There were muddy trails down to two black-browed albatross colonies; rockhopper penguins were also nesting on the rocky ledges and areas of tussock grass. Skuas and turkey vultures were eating dead chicks. The caracaras here were not happy about the large red creatures wandering about and dive bombed several in the group. On the way back to the dock, we stopped at the old (1880) farmhouse for tea and an impressive assortment of cookies and cakes. We enjoyed our treats at a picnic table in the pretty garden, full of flowers. The walk this afternoon was supposed to be 4 km (2.5 mi) but we measured 3.2 miles (5.1 km) on the Garmin, with an elevation gain of 265 feet (81 m). Before dinner there was a rather skimpy recap of the day’s events. The recap included information on the history of the farm and Lars-Eric Lindblad (founder of Lindblad Expeditions and a pioneer of ecotourism); some of Lindblad’s ashes are buried in the garden at the farm. It would have been nice to have been told about that ahead of our visit. Dinner tonight again had a great amuse-bouche: pea puree with topped with mushroom mousse and a mushroom chip. That was followed by an amazing escargot dish: the snails and garlic butter were inside small pastry cups that were floating in a cream sauce. The herb-crusted lamb loin was perfect. John finished with the cheese plate and lemon tiramisu; I had a chocolate-caramel dessert. Wines were the same as at lunch. ”Soleil,” the show in the Theater, was good but long: it started at 9:35 p.m. and ended at 10:25. That was rather late for us given this morning’s early start and a busy day of excursions. The dancers did an amazing job considering that we were rocking and rolling in the Southern Ocean. Tonight we received a feedback survey about our experience on the ship thus far. We thought this was an excellent idea to correct any problems early! We noted the excellent food, service and accommodations. However, we expressed disappointment that we had not had any wildlife lectures yet. Quark prepared us much better before our landings so we could appreciate what we might see. On our drive-by cruise, Princess had also provided lectures ahead of time so that we could know what to expect as far as wildlife sightings. We also mentioned that it would be nice to have a list of the names of the Expedition Team and their specialties so we would know who best to pester with our questions. Whether it was because of such critiques or Ponant planning, we soon had wildlife lectures. DAY 4: THURSDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 10 new cases, 20 total. The forecast for today was cloudy to partly cloudy skies and windy, with slightly lower air temperatures throughout the day around 45°F (7°C). It would take two days to reach South Georgia, which many reviews claim is the highlight of an expedition like this. The wildlife is supposed to be amazing and we were eagerly anticipating our arrival and the three days there. We slept in a little this morning. Later there was a good talk on “Shackleton” given by Cécile. We have read so much and watched so many movies and TV programs about Sir Ernest that we probably could have given the talk ourselves. Nevertheless, it was a nice recap. Today’s lunch theme was “Bistrot.” We have thus far avoided soups because—well we're not sure but it seems like we shouldn't eat everything! However, I had to try the gratinéed French onion soup. One main dish was duck confit parmentier (under a layer of mashed potatoes) and the daily special was freshly-prepared beef (and salmon) tartare. Those were amazing! And of course, there was the mandatory cheese selection. By cruise end, they may have to pry us away from the cheese tray but we'll fight them off with the wine bottles we have emptied. Four of the lunch wines were repeats: two whites (Château Mas Neuf and Jardin des Charmes) and two reds (Jardin des Charmes and Moulin de Gassac). The new rosé was Château Mas Neuf, Les Conviviales, AOC Costières de Nîmes 2016 (cinsault). In the afternoon, there was another mandatory briefing, this time about biosecurity, environment and safety in South Georgia and Antarctica. The IAATO rules are more stringent there than for the Falkland Islands. In order to reduce bird strikes, all windows on the ship would now be covered from sunset to sunrise. After the briefing we had a mandatory decontamination session. We had to bring any outerwear or gear that we planned to use on our landings for inspection and vacuuming. Velcro and pockets are especially susceptible to collecting seeds and other contraband; I did have one seed (shame!) caught in a Velcro strap on my pants. As if we had not had enough wine for lunch, we next went to a wine tasting (45€ pp) with the theme “Inside the French Vineyard.” This was a real tasting with knowledgeable sommeliers, unlike Princess’ Grapevine or Maitre d’ tastings. It was limited to 12 people; besides us there were three Australians and the rest were French. The tasting was excellent with nice tidbits to match with the wines. The wine pairings included Côtes de Provence Clos Mireille, Domaine Ott 2015 with asparagus and salmon; Pouilly-Fuissé “Les Courtelongs,” Domaine Saumaize 2017 with squid ink risotto; Château Marquis d’Alesme, AOC Margaux 2012 with tartare Italiane; Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Clos Saint Michel 2011 with rare roast beef and potato salad; and Minervois La Livinière “Le Viala,” Gérard Bertrand 2011 with a chocolate tart and meringue cookie. One of the wines was corked and it was interesting to find out how that defect smells and tastes. The amuse-bouche tonight was the same smoked salmon/asparagus combo that we had at the wine tasting. We started with roasted quail breasts followed by the duck breast with pink peppercorns as our main course. For dessert, I had the apple tart with vanilla ice cream; I think John had the panna cotta. The wines were the same as at lunch; we enjoyed the rosé with the duck. We are definitely eating too much! We need to get ashore and do some hiking to burn calories! Tonight the clocks would be set ahead one hour to be on South Georgia time. This was announced in tomorrow’s (!) daily program, which we got late this evening. Fortunately the cabin steward left a notice on the bed. The ship is rolling a bit more as we approach the Antarctic Convergence. There are barf bags in the elevator and tucked into the railings along the passageways. We later learned that the highest temperature ever measured on the continental Antarctic peninsula was recorded today at Argentina’s Esperanza research station—18.3°C (64.9°F). DAY 5: FRIDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 41 new cases, 61 total. The forecast for today was cloudy and windy, with slightly lower air temperatures throughout the day around 42°F (6°C). The ship was rolling quite a bit and this was probably the roughest day of the cruise. This morning Danielle (Dani) gave a good talk on “The Lives of Whales and Dolphins.” Finally a wildlife talk with information on what we might see and how to tell what it was! The lunch theme today was “Caribbean.” We enjoyed the jerk chicken and roasted pork belly with pineapple (and of course more cheese). Usually there are wine glasses on the tables but not today due to the rolling. We still got wine, thank goodness! Two of the wines were the white and red Jardin des Charmes that we had seen before; the rosé was Jardin des Charmes, IGP Coteaux de Béziers 2018 (cinsault, grenache). A new white was Passe Colline, AOC Ventoux 2018 (grenache, vermentino, clairette) and a new red was Château Thomas Laurent, AOC Bordeaux 2016 (merlot, cabernet sauvignon). This afternoon we had an uneven talk on “Birds of the Voyage” by Rao. He is not an ornithologist, just interested in birds, but at least it was something pertinent. Later we noticed that photos and biographies of the Expedition Team had been posted near the Expedition Desk. Maybe they read our survey responses or maybe it was planned already. Before dinner we had a briefing on tomorrow’s planned activities. However, the weather was supposed to be iffy, with high winds and a good chance of snow; high air temperatures were only expected to be around freezing (32°F, 0°C). In the morning, we would attempt a landing at Salisbury Plain (www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2015/Salisbury%20Plain.pdf), South Georgia’s second-largest king penguin colony. In the mid-afternoon we had two options: make a landing at Whistle Cove to see king penguins or join the walking group (limited to 90) to make the 6 km (3.7 mi) Shackleton walk (www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2015/Shackleton%20Walk%20revised%20070115.pdf) from Fortuna Bay to the Stromness Whaling Station. Although Pierre emphasized the difficulty of the walk and that it would likely be miserable in the snow, we signed up for it anyway. We were not about to miss the chance to replicate the last leg of Shackleton’s trek across South Georgia! The ship was really rolling this evening as we passed Shag Rocks, six small uninhabited islands on a seamount of the Scotia Ridge. As suggested by the name, there are lots of shags (cormorants), prions, petrels and other seabirds there and following the ship. During dinner, the ship had a severe roll as Captain Daher pulled in the stabilizers and maneuvered to avoid a pod of whales. Wine and water glasses and eating utensils all slid over, but we responded quickly enough to avoid spilling anything (especially the wine). Later we found that all the water bottles in our cabin had fallen over! Dinner included another excellent amuse-bouche, followed by foie gras. John had a tuna steak with an Asian touch; I had beef Stroganoff. John again enjoyed one of his favorite desserts, crème brûlée, and I had the “Chocolate 3 Ways.” The wines served were the same as at lunch; we chose the Bordeaux. Tonight a movie was shown in the Theater but we did not attend. DAY 6: SATURDAY 8 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 3 new cases, 64 total. It is a straight, 2-day shot from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia, so John had not bothered to chart it with the Garmin. However he set it up before we went to bed last night to record the arrival in South Georgia. When we got up this morning though, he thought there was something wrong with it because it showed us heading northeast. There were no South Georgia fjords outside the window and the ship was making top speed, 16 knots instead of the previous 12. There were large waves and high winds, making it a rocky ride during the night and this morning. The higher speed probably affected the motion too. The Captain soon announced that there was a life-threatening medical emergency and he had turned the ship around at 11 p.m. last night to return to the closest place where a medical evacuation would be possible—the Falkland Islands—36 hours away. This explained the direction and speed of the ship. This morning we had a hastily-arranged presentation by Mitya on “The Forgotten Expedition: Bellingshausen and Lazarev in Antarctica 1819-1821.” This was the first Russian expedition to the Antarctic and confirmed the existence of the seventh continent. Again, this was an interesting topic but the talk was a bit too long. The lunch theme today was “Italian.” John had some good Sicilian-style sole and I had the veal saltimbocca. There was decent vegetarian pizza too. However, the highlight was the fantastic antipasto table. The sous-chef was carving thin slices of prosciutto from a whole hog leg. There was a huge assortment of great roasted/marinated vegetables: eggplant, peppers, zucchini. In addition there were green and black olive tapenades, green and black olives, thinly-sliced octopus, bresaola and salami. John was complaining that he needed to start cutting back; his pants were getting tight. Nevertheless, he was able to put away some tiramisu. Three of the lunch wines were repeats: the Passe Colline white, the Jardin des Charmes rosé and the Moulin de Gassac red. A new white was Muscadet Chéreau Carré 2018 (melon de bourgogne, folle blanche) and a new red was Le Pas de la Beaume, CDR 2018 (grenache, syrah, cinsault). New plans were announced by the Captain this afternoon: take the ship to within 200 NM of the Falkland Islands, evacuate the patient by helicopter, head back to South Georgia and spend two days there instead of three. Then the ship would proceed on to the Antarctic Peninsula, where we would have only 1.5-2 days instead of three. He expected to reach the rendezvous point tomorrow morning before noon. Of course, that all would depend on the seas and the weather. Currently, the skies are clear, with strong wind from south. There are high waves and spray over the bow occasionally. It was disappointing to hear that we would lose 2-3 days of expeditions but we were thankful that neither of us was the person who would be dangling from a helicopter (no place for it to land) tomorrow morning. The person was stable right now but no telling what effect the evacuation would have on him/her. After that we skipped a lecture on climate change and headed up to the Observatory Lounge to revive our spirits with some extra-dirty vodka martinis. Tonight’s amuse-bouche was Caesar salad with pearl couscous. I followed that by asparagus with seafood; John had beetroot carpaccio. We both opted for beef Rossini (with a nice slab of foie gras on top). I had pear Helene for dessert. The lunch wines made another appearance at dinner. We had an after-dinner Jameson while waiting for the show, which was supposed to be inspired by Picasso. Instead we got passengers showing off the moves they were learning from the dance classes; we did not stick around for that. DAY 7: SUNDAY 9 FEBRUARY 2020—RESCUE AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 6 new cases, 70 total. This morning we abandoned the pretense that we are concerned about our caloric intake: we had breakfast in L’Eclipse. There were good pastries and a variety of juices. However, our focus was on Eggs Benedict, cooked to order. The requisite poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce were perched on bacon and toast—a novelty to us, but delicious nonetheless. This was setting a very bad precedent. This morning we skipped Dani’s presentation on “Of Whales and Man: From Whaling to Watching.” Reading “Wild Sea: A History of the Southern Ocean” had given us more than enough information about the whaling industry. Overnight it had been decided to get our ship to within 150 miles of Stanley to give the helicopter less distance to travel and more time on station. When the ship reached the rendezvous point, the Captain asked all of us to stay off the outside decks. Many of us gathered in the Observatory Lounge where we could keep watch for the helicopter, an AgustaWestland AW189. It arrived at 10:40 a.m. and hovered over the pool deck while (we later learned) it lowered a doctor down to the ship. After 15 minutes, the helicopter took off and began making wide circles around the ship while the doctor and the ship’s medical staff prepared the patient for evacuation. After 25 minutes, the helicopter returned and hauled up the doctor and the patient. Of course, we could only see the helicopter hovering over the edge of the ship and do not know whether a stretcher basket was used or whether the patient’s companion was able to accompany him/her. The helicopter departed for the Falkland Islands at 11:35 a.m.—the whole evacuation took less than an hour. We later learned that the patient was taken by air ambulance from the Falkland Islands to Punta Arenas, Chile, and from there to France. Lunch today was “Barbecue” with Argentine-style grilled steak and shrimp/sausage skewers. That looked really good but we had had breakfast and there were no seats—people who had finished lunch were sitting around talking and not leaving. We made up for it by having champagne and martinis. While we were relaxing, three beaked whales were spotted but we only saw their spouts. Later we went to a good lecture on “Life in the Abyss” by Rachel. The amuse-bouche tonight was tomato carpaccio with chick peas, followed by pâté en croûte. For our main, we had shrimp sautéed with garlic and parsley, with a side of the truffle risotto. The whites tonight were Benjamin Nieto Senetiner 2018 (chardonnay) from Argentina (!) and Le Pas de la Beaume, CDR 2018 (grenache, roussanne, clairette). The rosé was again Jardin des Charmes. The reds were also repeats: Le Pas de la Beaume and Guillaume Aurèle. Tonight’s entertainment was karaoke—not for us! We later learned that a new high temperature record was logged today by Brazilian scientists at Seymour Island off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula—20.75°C (69.35°F). Sigh. DAY 8: MONDAY 10 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 65 new cases, 135 total. Mid-morning we went to a coffee break with Rachel and Katia. It was interesting to hear about how they got involved in marine science and about results from their doctoral research. The buffet restaurant had been so crowded that we decided to start having lunch in the L’Eclipse dining room and get pampered. The first course, dessert and cheeses are served buffet-style and the main course is ordered from the waiter. The lunch theme was “Oriental” but it should have been “Moroccan.” I had lamb kefta with bulghur; John had delicious chicken tagine. After lunch, we went to another wine tasting (45€ pp). The theme was “Duel;”we would taste two wines side by side and compare them. This time John and I were the only non-French-speakers. Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre 2018 (sauvignon blanc) was matched against a wine from New Zealand—Dog Point Vineyard, Marlborough 2016 (sauvignon blanc). Château la Verrerie Grand Deffand, AOP Luberon 2018 (syrah) was matched against a wine from Spain—Les Terrasses Laderas de Pizarra, Priorat 2016 (grenache, carignan, cabernet sauvignon). Finally we had a blind tasting of two wines that had been decanted. These were eventually revealed to be Pauillac de Latour (third wine of Château Latour) 2011 (merlot, cabernet sauvignon) and Ornellaia, DOC Bolgheri 2011 (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot). John was pleased that he identified the Pauillac as a Bordeaux blend, vintage 2010-2012, and guessed the correct vintage of the Ornellaia; nobody else came close. We had also signed up for a third tasting with the theme “Great Wines of Our Cellar.” However, it was 95€ pp and it did not attract the required minimum number. A bit later, we had a briefing about our landings tomorrow. There would no longer be time for the long walk from Fortuna Bay to Stromness. Instead, we would have landings at Fortuna Bay and Grytviken. We would be able to do a shorter walk at Grytviken. Before dinner, John had a martini, a margarita and a kir royale along with nuts and snacks; I had a mojito and a margarita. We still have some self-control but we are sliding into decadence. Dinner tonight was just okay. As usual, the amuse-bouche (salmon mousse topped with smoked salmon and cucumber) was outstanding. John’s starter was salmon tartare and mine was grilled vegetables with pine nuts. We both had the beef Bourguignon with mashed potatoes, which was not as good as it sounded. For dessert, John had the apple tart and I had a chocolate tart with coffee ice cream. The wines were all repeats: Château Haut-Bellian, Le Pas de la Beaume, Jardin des Charmes, Moulin de Gassac and Guillaume Aurèle. The entertainment tonight was bingo; again, not our style. DAY 9: TUESDAY 11 FEBRUARY 2020—FORTUNA BAY & GRYTVIKEN, SOUTH GEORGIA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: no new cases reported. We finally touched land today! The forecast was for partly cloudy skies with air temperatures in the morning around 42°F (6°C) and in the afternoon around 40°F (5°C). We decided to stick with the unlined waterproof pants for the two landings. South Georgia was intensely green at this time of year, with jagged mountain peaks and impressive glaciers. This was a 4:30 a.m. start and the Red group was the second to land on the wide pebble beach. Fortuna Bay has a small colony of king penguins, “only” about ten thousand breeding pairs. There were many fur seal pups—incredibly cute, rambunctious and curious. Don’t mess with the adult females though because they bite! There were also some juvenile elephant seals, which are much larger than the fur seals. They were not cute and rambunctious. In fact, except for the occasional glance in our direction, they seemed dead! It was only a short walk this morning, about 1.25 miles (2 km) with an elevation gain of 59 feet (18 m), to some overlooks. We had spectacular views of the whole colony with the Konig Glacier and snow-capped mountains in the background. (www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2015/Fortuna.pdf) We had a light lunch after our after our morning on beach. John had calamari Provençale plus some charcuterie and cheeses. I also had some of the squid, salad with tuna and some vegetarian lasagna. After lunch, there was a briefing about tomorrow’s activities. In the afternoon, we visited Grytviken (www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2019/GRY01%20-%20Grytviken.pdf), formerly the largest whaling station on South Georgia. Today it is only inhabited in the summer by the staff of the South Georgia Museum, housed in the former residence of the station manager. The British Scientific Station at King Edward Point sits at the entrance to King Edward Cove. For a change, we disembarked using the ship’s tenders instead of the zodiacs, so we did not have to wear our life vests. Again the Red group was the second one taken ashore. There were several activities planned but first we wanted to make a pilgrimage to the small cemetery south of town to pay our respects at the grave of “the Boss,” Sir Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton died here in 1922, the day after arriving on the Quest for his final expedition to Antarctica. Next to the grave is a plot where the ashes of his right-hand man, Frank Wild, were interred in 2011. Other graves are those of whalers who died here and that of an Argentinean sailor who was killed during the 1982 Falklands War, when it was mistakenly thought that he was trying to scuttle the captured submarine Santa Fe. The walk to the cemetery passed by a large number of fur seals and their pups cavorting near the water. Farther inland, groups of elephant seals were resting side-by-side and still looking dead. A funeral service for Shackleton was held at the tiny Whalers Church, which is still in use today. Inside the church are a bust of Shackleton, a number of memorials to him and memorabilia from other expeditions. The town is encircled by steep rugged mountains and we were offered a 1.5 hour guided hike from the church north to the Maiviken viewpoint. This hike was described as “moderately easy;” it was about 2.25 miles (3.6 km) round trip with an elevation gain of 595 feet (181 m). Climbing in the Ponant boots is not all that easy, although the footing was fairly good. One of the guests did slip on some of the loose rocks and got a bloody nose. The hike climbs along a pretty stream and there are great views of the surrounding mountains. We moved away from the stream as we got higher, eventually reaching the overlook with views of two freshwater lakes, Lancetes Lake and Maivatn, and Maiviken, a cove at the north end of Thatcher Peninsula. The weather was spectacular and the guides made a point of telling us that they could not recall ever seeing the mountains that surrounded us. We were indeed fortunate! [Map of walk: www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2015/Maiviken%20Walk_extended%20walk.pdf] Back in town, we had enough time to visit the Post Office, the Shop and the South Georgia Museum. The museum was originally devoted to the whaling industry but was later expanded with exhibits about the wildlife of the area, the discovery of the island, the sealing industry, Shackleton and the Falklands war. The building next door houses a life-sized (22.5 feet or 6.9 m) replica of the “James Caird”, the open boat in which Shackleton and five of his crew sailed from Elephant Island to South Georgia. The Post Office has a nice exhibition, “Enduring Eye,” which includes 10 replica glass photographic plates, with associated images, and 12 original lantern slides from Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. These plates and slides were taken by the expedition photographer, Frank Hurley, and are on loan from the Royal Geographical Society (www.rgs.org/about/our-collections/enduring-eye/). Lastly, we had a guided tour of the whaling station, led by a member of the museum staff, Sarah. The name Grytviken means “Pot Bay” and refers to the trypots left here by early sealers; there is one in front of the museum. The town is strewn with the remnants of rusty oil tanks, oil processing plants and the beached wrecks of whaling vessels. Sarah explained the various steps involved in processing whales, from hunting to the myriad resulting products; every part of the whale was used. There are a number of informational signs throughout the site, so it is also possible to explore the town on your own. Back on the ship, we had views of some interesting cloud formations, including lenticular clouds, tinged with gorgeous colors by the setting sun. Dinner tonight was especially delicious. The amuse-bouche was a salad of tomato, chick peas, mint and feta; we followed that with scallop ceviche and hake fillet with mustard sauce. John enjoyed panna cotta for dessert and I had Pavlova with berries. We paired dinner with the Muscadet Chéreau Carré; the other white was the Moulin de Gassac. The rosé was the Croix Salans. The two reds were Château Thomas Laurent and Moulin de Gassac. We retired to the Observatory Lounge for a nightcap. Tonight we had clear skies for a change. Even though it was a couple of nights past the full “snow” supermoon, we saw a great moonrise. We also saw two north/south satellites passing overhead. Much later, there was a presentation by scientists from The British Scientific Station at King Edward Point about their research. We did not stay up for that. DAY 10: WEDNESDAY 12 FEBRUARY 2020—ST ANDREWS BAY & COOPER BAY, SOUTH GEORGIA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 39 new cases, 174 total39 more on DP 174 total. This was an incredible morning at St. Andrews Bay (www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2015/St%20Andrews%20Bay.pdf). We heard the anchor drop around 4 a.m. and looked out to see a beautiful clear day and a giant king penguin colony in front of the Heaney and Cook Glaciers. Giant is an understatement: this is the largest king penguin colony on South Georgia with 250,000 breeding pairs, so there are at least a half-million birds here. The weather in South Georgia has been fantastic—lots of sun. It wasn’t so windy this morning but the air temperature was lower than yesterday, about 38°F (3°C) Dani said. We decided to dress in insulated pants and mid-layer plus base layer top because of the wind and the half-hour zodiac ride. The Green group left at 4:15 a.m., followed by the Yellow group; the Blue and Red groups could not disembark until first two started coming back. John and I were in the last group off at 6:20 a.m. We just missed a zodiac going out but then no one was behind us for some reason. Maybe they were waiting to be called but we have learned to go to the lounge a few minutes before our scheduled time to gear up. Anyway, the result was that the two of us had a private zodiac ride along the beach, watching king penguins and fur seals fish and swim as southern giant petrels bobbed in the water. Fur seal pups were frolicking in the water. Year-old chicks (oakum boys) in their fuzzy brown coats were everywhere. Here and there were groups of elephant seals lounging on the beach. The landing site had four crew in dry suits to pull in the zodiac and help us negotiate the surf to get ashore. Penguins were everywhere at the landing site, making it hard to maintain the requisite 5 meter buffer zone. We were given 1.5 hours to hike 1 km (0.6 mi) to an overlook of the colony. (We measured 0.8 miles (1.4 km) with an elevation gain of 64 feet (19.6 m).) As before, we could follow the trail of red flags at our own pace. We thought we had seen a lot of birds on the beach but the vast expanse of them visible from the overlook was incredible. We even saw some new gray-downed chicks snuggled under their parents’ belly flaps and many oakum boys molting their down to reveal their adult diving suits. This is not even to mention the stupendous mountain background and two huge glaciers glistening in the sunlight. Plenty of elephant seals and fur seals had hauled out a good distance from the beach. We also saw some south polar skuas. Today there was a special brunch buffet from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. to accommodate the timing of the excursions. There was not enough room inside the Le Pytheas, so we found a table outside (fortunately there were blankets!) on the pool deck. There were many other dishes but we concentrated on the foie gras and beef tartare. We also sampled the roasted rib eye and lamb, grilled salmon and grilled chicken skewers. We skipped the flambéed bananas for dessert. The bananas are getting old so this was good use for them. During lunch, the ship re-positioned to Cooper Bay (www.gov.gs/docsarchive/Visitors/Visitor%20Management%20Plans/2015/Cooper%20Bay.pdf), dropping anchor around noon. We would take a 1.5 hour cruise here with no landing. So that we could enjoy the commentary during the zodiac cruise, we were divided into language groups this time. We headed out with Cécile in the first English-speaking group at 12:30 p.m. The zodiac cruised in and out of coves to observe wildlife. We saw macaroni penguins going up and downhill; it’s surprising how high they climb! There were chin strap, gentoo and king penguins and lots of fur and elephant seals. There were plenty of seabirds too—pale-faced sheathbills, petrels, terns, cormorants. Our outboard motor developed a problem and we had to move over to a new zodiac; fortunately no one went overboard during this maneuver! As the afternoon went on, it became progressively cloudier, and light rain was falling at the end of the cruise. By 4 p.m. all of the zodiacs were raised and the Le Soléal headed off to Antarctica. Back aboard the ship, we had some drinks (mojito, martini, champagne), then settled in for a nap. That didn’t last long because whales interrupted. Two fin whales came really close to the ship; we saw one humpback nearby and several in the distance. John got some good video from our balcony. Later, there was a recap of our day before dinner. Despite the filling lunch, we still managed to go to dinner. Tonight’s amuse-bouche was curry and coriander cream soup. John followed that with a crab cake and I had tuna tartare. His main was duck leg confit, while I chose sea bream with bouillabaisse sauce. I had the pecan brownie with vanilla ice cream for dessert. The wines were all repeats: Moulin de Gassac and Muscadet Chéreau Carré for the whites, Croix Salans for the rosé and Moulin de Gassac and Château Thomas Laurent for the reds. We skipped tonight’s classical piano concert. DAY 11: THURSDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 44 new cases, 218 total. It would take two days for us to reach the Antarctic Peninsula with nothing to do but sleep, read, eat and imbibe. We got a start with cappuccino in Observatory Lounge, a good place to read while trying to conjure up whales. John saw whale spouts far away, probably humpbacks, but no tails. There was a good talk on “Pinnepeds of the Great White” by Dani; it should be helpful when identifying them. It is unlikely that we will see Ross seals, but we have already seen fur seals and elephant seals; we should see the other three (Weddell, crabeater, leopard) once we get to the Peninsula. The lunch theme was “Asian.” Starters included dim sum (two kinds of dumplings) and sushi. John had seared halibut with Asian seasonings; I had beef stir-fry that was hardly any beef, all noodles. As usual, there were great cheeses for dessert. The wines were all ones we had had before: Jardin des Charmes (white and red), Château Haut-Bellian, Croix Salans, Le Pas de la Beaume. We skipped the afternoon lecture on “Movement, Beauty and Change in the Cryosphere - Part 1” by Julien; we had heard similar lectures in the Arctic and went for drinks instead. We saw more whale spouts later in the afternoon. Tonight was the second of three “formal” nights—the All White Gala Evening or “Soíree Blanche” (it sounds more elegant in French). Everyone was asked to wear a white (or black and white) outfit. Again, all sorts of attire were on display, from very dressy to casual. As on the last formal night, we were all asked to show up at the same time in the dining room, so we shared a table with an Australian couple. The husband is an actual tanner, the first one we have ever met. The classic menu (the other was vegetarian) was fantastic! Tonight’s amuse-bouche was a creamy potato and truffle velouté with a port-flavored biscuit. The cold starter was a celery and langostino remoulade and the hot starter was Oeuf 65°, a sous vide egg with vichyssoise foam and Iberian ham. The only misstep was the beef Wellington, which was only so-so (too mustardy). Dessert was dark chocolate cake with cherries. We enjoyed the La Chablisienne Chablis with the seafood dishes and the Château Tauzinat L’Hermitage, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2012 (merlot, cabernet sauvignon) with the rest. The rosé was the Croix Salans again. The clocks were set back one hour at midnight tonight. Again this was not mentioned until tomorrow’s daily program. Thank goodness for the reminder from the cabin steward! DAY 12: FRIDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2020—AT SEA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: no new cases reported. The ship sailed past the South Orkney Islands this morning. It was very foggy almost all day and windy. We went to a good lecture on “The Plankton” by Rachel. Confusingly, lunches do not always match the theme listed in the daily program. Today’s was “Argentinian” but was mostly Italian dishes and had a pasta station. We didn’t come on a French ship to eat Italian, so we concentrated on the cheeses and accompaniments such as olive tapenade. One of the cheeses (probably Gorgonzola) was so soft that it had to be served with a spoon—it was so good! John had some ice cream that I think was Calisson flavor, a traditional French candy made with ground almonds and candied fruits. In the mid-afternoon, the ship diverted 15 NM to get within 150 m of a large (10 miles wide) tabular iceberg. It was hard to see in the fog (cue the theme song from “Titanic”). Later we went to a depressing lecture on climate change by Julien, “Movement, Beauty and Change in the Cryosphere – Part 2.” We were drinking away our depression in the Observatory Lounge when a barely intelligible announcement directed us to lug all of our outerwear to the Main Lounge for an unscheduled inspection. Why can't these things be listed in the daily program? I'm starting to feel like I'm on a Costa ship, with things happening at random times. Before dinner, we had a briefing on the activities planned for Antarctica. Pierre may be great in planning but he’s not good at presenting—he couldn't get out what he was trying to say. After some disorganized rambling, the Captain had to bail him out and finish the briefing. We don't need hemming and hawing about what we might have done with more time or better weather, just tell us what looks feasible and safe! The comparison with Ali, our Expedition Leader on Quark, is very unfavorable to Pierre. Today was St. Valentine's Day and Executive Chef Seys went all out with special his/her menus (vegetarians had a unisex menu). The “Love Her/Love Him” dinner was unbelievable—creative, great materials, great execution! Even the dinner rolls were heart-shaped. Everyone started with an avocado wrap for the amuse-bouche. After that, there were parallel courses for her or for him, with two versions of the same basic ingredient: two foie gras cold appetizers, two scallop hot appetizers, two roasted veal loin main courses and two delicious desserts (one strawberry, one chocolate). The finishing touch was a rose macaron and raspberry candied fruits. What else to drink on Valentine’s Day but champagne? We started with Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut, followed by Le Pas de la Beaume with the starters and Château Thomas Laurent with the veal loin. The fog lifted somewhat during dinner. The ship passed Elephant and Clarence Islands on the starboard side about 8 p.m. but we could not see them. After the outstanding dinner, we were too stuffed to indulge in a postprandial libation and were not interested in “Dancing with the Le Soléal Stars.” DAY 13: SATURDAY 15 FEBRUARY 2020—PORTAL POINT, ANTARCTICA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 67 new cases, 285 total. This morning, we were cruising in the Bransfield Strait between the South Shetland islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, making good speed (15+ knots). From here the ship would traverse the Croker Passage and enter the Gerlache Strait. Visibility was somewhat better than yesterday and air temperatures were expected to be 23-32°F (-5 to 0°C) today. We saw spouts from our cabin in the morning and throughout the day we would see many icebergs. Rao gave another lecture, this time on “Penguin Habitats.’’ Lunch included orzo risotto with excellent smoked duck breast and morel mushrooms. No new wines appeared. Because we would be arriving so late to Portal Point, the show (“Perhaps”) was presented in the afternoon. Dinner would start later than usual to accommodate the expedition schedule. Starting at 5 p.m., two color groups began cruising Charlotte Bay in the zodiacs for one hour, while the other two were spending 1.5 hours on land; groups would then alternate cruising and landing. There is a requirement in Antarctica that no more than 100 people (cruisers and crew) be ashore at one spot at any one time. The Red group was second in line for the scenic cruising and so we started our zodiac cruise at 5:30 p.m., wending our way among the huge, intricately carved icebergs and admiring the spectacular glacial scenery. The site is called Portal Point (www.ats.aq/devAS/Ats/Guideline/6d7ca336-859f-473e-bd55-3ad8fd4b3edb) because a Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey team built a refuge hut here in 1956 and used nearby glacial tongues to access the Polar Plateau. There are remains of the hut near the landing site and a male fur seal was hauled out on the rocks farther away. There were a few gentoo penguins scattered here and there and some gulls and cormorants. As we approached the landing site, we could see that the snow slopes were tinted pink with “watermelon snow” by an algae that grows on penguin poop (www.atlasobscura.com/articles/why-is-antarctic-ice-red?). Finally we set foot on the White Continent! First we followed the red flags up the snow slope to the right of the landing site, climbing 75 ft (23 m), to a promontory for panoramic views of the bay. After climbing back down to the shore, we climbed up 90 ft (27 m) to the circular peninsula on the left of the landing site. The Team had marked the perimeter of the peninsula with red flags so we could safely circle it for great views in all directions. Then it was back to the landing site for a total walk of 0.7 miles (1.1 km). While waiting to go back to the ship, Céleste showed us some salps (a type of plankton) in the water. During the zodiac ride back to the ship, we got some good views of the male fur seal stretching. Tonight’s amuse-bouche was artichoke soup with bacon mousse and fried onion slivers. The starter was a welcome repeat of the snail dish we enjoyed so much earlier in the cruise. The main course was a casserole of marinated shrimp with potatoes and olives. Dessert was lemon tiramisu for me and dulce de leche ice cream for John. Around sunset, we were enjoying a drink in the Observatory Lounge (seems like a common theme) when humpback whales were spotted. As the ship got closer, we were thrilled to see that a group of at least four whales was bubble-net feeding! In this learned behavior, the whales circle their prey (small fish and krill) while each exhales in turn to create the bubble net. After the prey is corralled, the whales simultaneously swim upwards with their mouths open to engulf the trapped prey. We had never seen this feeding activity in real life before! The water was so clear that we could see the whales (especially their pale pectoral fins) underwater and the exhaled circles of bubbles. Although it was difficult in the fading light, John was able to get some good photos and videos. DAY 14: SUNDAY 16 FEBRUARY 2020—NEKO HARBOR, PARADISE BAY & LEMAIRE CHANNEL, ANTARCTICA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 70 new cases, 355 total. [Note: Several countries were making arrangement to repatriate their citizens from the ship. Charter planes would evacuate US citizens starting tonight and they would be quarantined for 14 days once they arrived back in the USA.] We were up this morning at 4 a.m. for a 4:45 zodiac cruise/landing at Neko Harbor (www.ats.aq/devAS/Ats/Guideline/39864605-7e82-4f8e-a171-49bdb8423e4f) in Andvord Bay. The Blue and Red groups went ashore first; the other two groups did the cruise first while we did the walk. There were many gentoo penguins near the rocky landing site and on the beach by the Deville Glacier. This glacier calves regularly and a calved iceberg might cause a tsunami. We were told, “If you see the penguins running, follow them.” There were two options for a walk. We started with the more strenuous one—climbing about 380 feet (116 m) high, up an icy incline to a rock outcrop with a stunning view of the glacier. The glacier is heavily crevassed; we could hear it cracking but did not see any calving. From the overlook, we had views of the entire area and the bay. As usual, we were overdressed for the hike and the way down was more difficult; John went faster by unintentionally sliding part way. Back down at the penguin colony, we walked along the beach for nice views of the glacier from below. On the way back to the landing site, we saw a very nice pebble nest with a parent guarding a tiny gray chick. The total distance for both hikes was just over a mile (1.6 km). While we were making the walks, we were envious because we could see that the Green and Yellow groups were viewing humpback whales during their zodiac cruise. However, we were equally lucky on our cruise and had many close whale encounters. We even saw a whale do a spyhop. While the other groups were finishing their excursions, we fortified ourselves for the afternoon’s adventure with a breakfast of Eggs Benedict and a short nap. As the ship sailed out of the bay to our next stop, we came upon many more humpbacks, singly or in groups of 2-4. There was plenty of nearby surface activity, such as breaching, more spyhopping and lobtailing (tail slapping). The ship spent at least an hour here, maneuvering to give us better views of the whales. This was an amazing whale encounter! We also saw a fur seal on an iceberg. During repositioning to Paradise Bay, we passed a Chilean scientific station (Gabriel González Videla Base), surrounded by thousands of gentoo penguins. Some of them were climbing high above the beach to a horizontal crack in the glacier. Only a short way farther along, we spotted a leopard seal in the water, looking like a small sea serpent. We spotted crabeater and Weddell seals as well. The ship anchored in Paradise Bay around 11 a.m. Blue and Red again went first, but this time we started with the zodiac cruise. Earlier we had spotted a humpback whale cruising along the base of one of the tidewater glaciers. When we got out in the zodiacs, we could see he was surface feeding. We got many great views of his head emerging to capture a mouth full of krill. Katia was our driver and she provided a great explanation of what we were seeing. The whale really seemed to enjoy the company of the zodiacs and kept following them. We saw crabeater seals on icebergs and Weddell seals on the beach. We motored into another glacier-lined bay with stunning views. The rock cliffs here were teeming with cormorants and Katia pointed out a large vein of malachite. Out in the middle of the bay, she opened an ice chest and served us champagne (or orange juice) to celebrate. The whale had followed us here too! Our landing site was at Argentina’s Almirante Brown Research Station. Here we could walk to an overlook of the bay at an elevation of 250 ft (76 m). The icy climb up was not so bad; we didn't get that hot. The way down was much more treacherous, with both of us slipping and me winding up in my back at one point. We were quite overheated by the time we got back to the landing point. Once back in the ship, we took a well-deserved shower and headed up to the Observatory Lounge for a drink. We saw more humpbacks (ho hum) and seals (leopard, Weddell) on icebergs. We also many huge icebergs, some 230 feet (70 m) high. Dinner was early (6 p.m.) because of the scenic cruising planned for later. The amuse-bouche was a salad of asparagus, red onion, feta and chickpeas. The starter was shrimp with guacamole and salsa; the main course was roasted haddock fillet. John had panna cotta with red fruits for dessert and I had a chocolate treat, 100% Cacao. There were no new wines to try. After dinner we bundled up and went out on the Observatory Terrace for the transit of the Lemaire Channel. The channel is only 6.8 miles (10.9 km) long and one mile (1.6 km) wide at its narrowest point. However, it is renowned for its dramatic scenery that epitomizes Antarctica. There were many icebergs at the entrance and the channel is lined by towering snow-capped cliffs. We saw a whale that Mitya identified as a minke and seals on icebergs. As we exited the channel, the Hurtigruten Midnatsol was entering. This was the first time we had seen another expedition ship since we saw the Seabourn Quest and Scenic Eclipse back in Ushuaia. After exiting the Lemaire Channel, the ship took the French Passage (between Petermann island and the Argentine Islands) out to the Southern Ocean. The French Passage lies at 65°10’S latitude or about 90 NM due north of the Antarctic Circle (66°33’S). Of course, the ship couldn’t go due south, so it would actually be at least 115 NM to get there and thus out of reach for us. There was not even enough time left for the ship to follow the original itinerary along the west side of the Palmer Archipelago and past the South Shetland Islands. Instead, the Captain set a course directly toward Ushuaia. DAY 15: MONDAY 17 FEBRUARY 2020—CROSSING THE DRAKE PASSAGE Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 99 new cases, 454 total [Note: About 380 citizens were airlifted yesterday from the ship to the USA; 14 were found to be infected after they arrived today.] We are now finished with the zodiac life vests, so we were instructed to leave them outside our doors to be picked up along with our boots. I stopped by Reception to get a printout of our on board account and saw that we had been charged 72€ for somebody else’s bottle of wine. That was corrected after the sommeliers checked the bar slips. Later this morning there was a good talk on “Orcas of the Ice” by Rachel. Unfortunately, we did not see any orcas on this voyage. The lunch theme was “Country Style” but “International” would have been more accurate. We started with spanakopita and had seared tuna Thai style as the main. John got crème caramel, another of his favorites, for dessert. The wines were all repeats. We signed up for the wine pairing to accompany tonight’s Gala Dinner but again the minimum number needed was not met. In the afternoon, Mitya gave a talk on “Enchanted by Cape Horn.” This was about the art of Rockwell Kent, who was known for his landscapes, including works based on his travels in and around Tierra del Fuego in the early 1920s. Teatime today was replaced by a caviar tasting! We were served two blinis with generous helpings of Kaviari caviar (starts at 1600€/kg), smoked salmon and smoked trout. We thought it went quite well with the house champagne. Tonight was the last of the three “formal” nights—the Farewell Reception and Gala Dinner. It seemed to me that more people dressed up for this than for the others—we even saw a tux! And Cruize had penguin studs on his shirt! An unusual feature was that the Captain introduced every single crew member (except the Second Officer, who was on the Bridge) and brought them on stage. A nice surprise was the Captain’s announcement that we would be compensated for the loss of landing days with a 30% discount on our next Ponant cruise (booked by the end of 2021) and 300€ pp OBC. We later received a letter detailing the offer and it was also emailed to us after we returned home. Again, a fixed menu, with classic and vegetarian versions, was served. Tonight’s amuse-bouche was duck foie gras, the cold starter was marinated sea bream and the hot starter was seared scallops. The main course was a duck and duck foie gras duet with chanterelles. Dessert was “Le Choco-coco” followed by vanilla madeleines. There was a new white wine tonight: Silex, AOC Sancerre 2018, Domaine Delaporte (sauvignon blanc). The rosé was Château Mas Neuf, Les Conviviales, and the red was the Château Tauzinat L’Hermitage. We found that all the menus were excellent but the fixed menus on the “formal” nights were especially pleasing. The show tonight was “Around the World,” presented in the Main Lounge. DAY 16: TUESDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2020—CROSSING THE DRAKE PASSAGE Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 88 new cases, 542 total. Alas, this morning was the disembarkation talk. Unlike every other ship we have sailed on, we were not given a printed copy of the schedule and procedures ahead of time (John took a photo). Naturally, that resulted in plenty of confusion. Immediately following was a screening of the movie of the cruise. We had debated whether to purchase this because John had taken so many good photos and video. However, after seeing it, we decided it was worth the 70€ price (we still had 32€ OBC to spend). [Note: Quark Expeditions posted a collection of the ship photographer’s photos, and photos shared by other guests, online after the expedition. Those were accessed using our booking number at no charge.] The “Mediterranean” lunch included lamb curry for me and perch fillet for John. No new wines. At 4 p.m., we had the final recap, hosted by Mitya, who was dressed in a penguin suit. He gave a routine about how much he hates penguins before introducing Pierre and the rest of the Expedition Team to say farewell. At 6 p.m., the show “Métropolitain” was presented. This outstanding review was inspired by the various neighborhoods and sights near the Paris subway stations. After the show, an illustrated marine chart of the voyage was raffled to benefit crew welfare. By now, the ship had entered the Beagle Channel and we expected to arrive in Ushuaia around 11 p.m. We were still keeping an eye out for wildlife and were rewarded with the sight of hourglass dolphins leaping near the ship. The last dinner of the cruise began with an amuse-bouche of chestnut mousse with crêpes. My starter was vitello tonnato and John enjoyed an encore of Oeuf 65°. His main was the sea bream and mine the lobster pasta. Dessert for John was baba au rhum; I had chocolate-mint “After Eight” cake. No new wines. During dinner, the Silversea Silver Cloud passed us on her way to Antarctica. Later there was a movie about Ponant’s history. We skipped that to finish packing, set out our bags and turn in early to be ready for our early morning departure. DAY 17: WEDNESDAY 19 FEBRUARY 2020—USHUAIA TO BUENOS AIRES (EZE) Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 79 new cases, 621 total. [Note: Passengers who had tested negative started disembarking from the ship at the end of the 14-day quarantine period.] Our bus did not leave for the airport until 7 a.m., so we had time for one last breakfast of Eggs Benedict. As we disembarked, I noticed that the National Geographic Orion was also in port. At the airport, we found our bags and checked them for the 9 a.m. Aerolineas Argentina flight to Buenos Aires. Because we had not purchased our flights home from Ponant, we were not able to have the bags checked directly through to RDU. I was able to have our Delta SkyMiles numbers added to our reservations though. We were served a snack on the flight and arrived in Buenos Aires around 12:30 p.m. After collecting our luggage, we exited into the Aerolineas Argentina terminal, where local Ponant representatives pointed the way to the Delta check-in counters. Unfortunately, there would not be any Delta agents there until 5:50 p.m. At least we were able to get seats in the terminal near an open door and it was not too hot (no air conditioning). When the Delta agents finally showed up, we had another slight problem: the date I entered Argentina was not legible on the passport stamp. After much consultation with supervisors, it was decided that I must have come in with John on February 1 and we were issued boarding passes and checked our bags. We went through the security screening and proceeded to passport control. The Border agent scowled at my stamp but the computer system must have said it was OK because I got through. By now it was so late that the Star Alliance Lounge, where we had hoped to wait for our flight, was supposed to be closed to Priority Pass cardholders. Luckily, John had the brilliant idea to ask whether we might be admitted anyway and we were allowed to enter! This was an exceptionally nice lounge with comfortable chairs and plenty of good food (empanadas!); there was self-service Salentein wine, beer and liquor. After we had been relaxing for awhile, two other couples from the cruise showed up; they also had had to wait for their airlines’ counters to open. We left the lounge about 30 minutes before boarding time so I could try to spend my leftover pesos. I found a small store with stuffed animals that looked promising. The sales clerk did not speak any English and I don’t speak much Spanish, but she assured me that the canid I was holding was indeed a zorro (fox) and not a perro (dog). I was later relieved to learn that there is such a thing as a South American gray fox, whose range extends to Tierra del Fuego. Neither it or the penguin I also bought look much like real animals but I doubt that our granddaughters will mind. Finally, it was time to leave Argentina behind and catch the flight to Atlanta. Again, we managed to sleep fairly well for most of the flight. The food and wine consumed in the lounge allowed us to sleep through the undoubtedly delicious dinner on the flight. We awoke shortly before the breakfast service started. FEBRUARY 20, 2020—ATLANTA, GA (ATL), TO RALEIGH/DURHAM, NC (RDU), USA Diamond Princess COVID-19 update: 13 new cases, 634 total, 2 deaths. Our flight arrived at 5:40 a.m. and we intended to use EoA (Enrollment on Arrival) to complete the interview needed to renew our Global Entry membership. Atlanta now has facial recognition, so we only had to have a photo made to get our entry slip and go through the Global Entry line. The Global Entry line was surprisingly long but still much, much shorter than the regular immigration line and it goes fast. When our passports were scanned, we asked about EoA and were directed to the proper counter. There we were asked how much time we had until our next flight because there were three people ahead of us and the computers were down. We had three hours, so it was no problem for us to wait. When we were finally called for the interview, the officer took both of us at the same time. He didn’t even ask us any questions; all we needed to do was have a new photo and set of fingerprints taken. The whole interview took about 10 minutes! EoA taken care of, we proceeded to the baggage carousel to collect our bags and take them through customs. We didn’t have any problem finding the bags because they had been taken from the carousel and grouped with the few others that were still unclaimed from our flight. We quickly passed through customs and re-checked our bags on to RDU. We still had time to relax in the same The Club lounge that we used on the way to Buenos Aires before heading to the gate for our short flight home. We napped a bit during the flight and felt refreshed when we arrived. Although some aspects of this expedition cruise were not as we had hoped, the whale encounters (especially the bubble-net feeding and breaching whales) exceeded our expectations. South Georgia also lived up to its reputation as the place to really see wildlife. We also enjoyed the luxury cruise experience on Ponant. The food was always excellent and sometime absolutely amazing. The included wines were pleasing and better than the included wines we’ve had on a Viking River cruise or on the Ocean Adventurer. The quality of the food was also a step up from Viking and Princess and probably two steps up from our Quark cruise. Overall, we were definitely pleased and will look into using our discount to book another cruise with Ponant in the future. Meanwhile, it’s time to lace up the walking shoes and burn off all those foie gras pounds! Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
It is my second attempt to explore and visit the New Zealand subantarctic islands. 2 years ago, I was on the Spirit of Enderby which I am going to call "SoE". That trip was booked by a travel agent which I trusted. The result ... Read More
It is my second attempt to explore and visit the New Zealand subantarctic islands. 2 years ago, I was on the Spirit of Enderby which I am going to call "SoE". That trip was booked by a travel agent which I trusted. The result however was something I never do again. I can't handle SoE. Sharing a small room, small shower, toilet that isn't allowed to flush toilet paper etc etc.. well, you get the idea. I am 6'10" tall and diabetic and after just 1 day and actually nice weather: Seasickness, hypo's, bad pain in the back, not good. I was able to leave the SoE expedition. If anyone is okay with that ship, that's fine. I find the ship something you can't relax on and that did it for me. So here we go, Le Laperouse which took most of the destinations SoE offered on their voyage. The Le Laperous expedition went way better. You have the room for yourself, no sharing with other travellers, a balcony which is actually great to do some birdwatching and photographing from. In comparison with SoE though... yep, we obviously don't have 50 people on board but 150 on Le Laperouse. That means that when you go on a shore excursion or zodiac cruise, you'll be split into groups. That unfortunately means, less time to actually be out of the ship. Nothing the crew could do about it, but something to think about when choosing a cruise. A ship with 50 people on board (SoE) may be too small for some (including me) but having more then 150 people probably means less excursion time. Excursion time, actually "being out there" is the most important thing for me. I don't really care how diverse the menu is. I go on holiday to watch birds first, and other wildlife / landscape second. Everything else..., yeah it needs to be comfortable so I can: Eat well Sleep well Work on my laptop to download, store and edit pictures which I have just taken. Stay clean (shower and toilet) Everything else, lectures, dancing classes, luxury dinners etc. etc. are a non priority for me. On the cruise itself, yeah it was great that we were able to go to Sandy Bay on Macquarie Island, since the Australian Government shut down the entire island because of Corona virus but through some tough negotiations we were still able to go to Sandy Bay, not to the Adare Station. Unfortunate that we couldn't do zodiac tours around The Snares but being close to the Snares was still very nice. We saw plenty of birds, seals as well as stunning landscape in the Fjords. The crew was excellent. I am certainly looking forward to one's in a few years visit a remote place on a cruise and Ponant's Le Laperouse or the other Exploration vessels do come recommended for certain. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
Celebrity Eclipse Cruise to Antarctica Feb 2020 I have always wanted to go to Antarctica but, like Uluru, had no desire to leave my footprint on this pristine land. And my hubby gets seasick on small ships, so an expedition ship was ... Read More
Celebrity Eclipse Cruise to Antarctica Feb 2020 I have always wanted to go to Antarctica but, like Uluru, had no desire to leave my footprint on this pristine land. And my hubby gets seasick on small ships, so an expedition ship was out. So, Celebrity Eclipse fitted the bill perfectly. You get to cruise in and around Antarctica, covering Drake Passage, Schollart Passage, Paradise Bay, Elephant Island erc, all the biggies, without stopping, landing and footprint contributing. AND IT WAS AWESOME! The ship is lovely (older but still nice - being refurbed soon). It was not overcrowded (although it was full they said) and whatever time you got to the Solarium Pool (indoors/warm) you could always get a seat. There was heaps of activities, (including glass blowing which was awesome), to do every day. The spa area was great with hot beds and saunas. It was a lovely relaxing start to an awesome cruise. We saw so much of Antarctica. Captain Leo 360’d the ship a few times so we could sit on our balcony and see everything. We saw penguins Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
Value for money cruise. Facilities good. Cabin decent size. Room attendant Michelle did very good job of making room clean and comfortable. Everything put in place and so pleasant to return to after breakfast. Restaurants very nice ... Read More
Value for money cruise. Facilities good. Cabin decent size. Room attendant Michelle did very good job of making room clean and comfortable. Everything put in place and so pleasant to return to after breakfast. Restaurants very nice ambience and wide range of menu selection. Interesting food items available at mealtimes. Dinner in Moonlight Sonata made very enjoyable by excellent service from Aditya and asst waiter Rodrigo. Both were ever ready to accommodate personal request whenever made. Both always gave clear explanations of the dishes in the menu. Additional service from the pair was their nightly summary of the highlights for the next day, (food and activities). Food presentations need improving. Quality control appears to be missing on several occasions. Vegetable garnishes were wilted and made the dish unappetizing. Shoos offered a good range of products for sale. Embarkation and disembarkation well organized. Settlement of on board accounts process very good. Cost of cruise was money well spent. Foid, service, cabin, and activities were good. Possibility of repeat ctuyse onbanother ship. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
We chose this particular cruise because of the Antarctica Itinerary. We had been to Buenos Aires, Ushuia, Montevideo and Stanley, Falkland Islands previously. Antarctica islands were fantastic. We are Elite (almost Elite Plus) on ... Read More
We chose this particular cruise because of the Antarctica Itinerary. We had been to Buenos Aires, Ushuia, Montevideo and Stanley, Falkland Islands previously. Antarctica islands were fantastic. We are Elite (almost Elite Plus) on Celebrity and in a Concierge Veranda stateroom which was fine. On previous Celebrity cruise ships we had experienced good food and were looking forward to same on the Eclipse. Unfortunately, from day one until disembarkation the food was a big disappointment. Additionally, they were short of supplies like sweeteners, etc. for the entire cruise. The desserts (cakes, etc.) were beautiful but tasted so bad that we would take one bite and leave them. We ate ice cream (like most people) for dessert even in Antarctica because the desserts were inedible. The "grilled" items were usually cold and dried out - as were many of the entrees. Best items were the pasta line (you always had a line) and pizza (not that great but better than most items). In the buffet the service was almost non-existent. Everyone must get their own beverages unless you are ordering alcohol. 98% of the time I had to take my used plates to the waiter stations myself - or leave them on the table. To add insult to injury, Celebrity has increased their Gratuities. Fitness Center always had equipment that stayed out of order causing long wait lines for using equipment such as treadmills, bicycles, cross country and rowing. Captain Leo was entertaining and the Cruise Director, Alejandro, was magnificent. Celia, the "Naturalist" was good. Would I go on the Eclipse again - not unless it was nearly a FREE cruise. Food on a cruise is important and this cruise food was a disgrace for Celebrity. Since we are going on the Edge soon, we are hoping it has much better food and service. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
We chose this cruise to see Antarctica. We had been booked originally with HAL but after doing an EXC Holland America cruise through the Pacific last April we decided to cancel. We wanted a cruise that had some entertainment for the many ... Read More
We chose this cruise to see Antarctica. We had been booked originally with HAL but after doing an EXC Holland America cruise through the Pacific last April we decided to cancel. We wanted a cruise that had some entertainment for the many sea days. This was our first cruise on Celebrity and we were very happy with most things. Our cabin was nice on the 10th floor mid ship Concierge class. I don't think I would bother with Concierge class again, it's the same as an ordinary balcony cabin and the so called extra perks were not worth the extra money. We had to ask our steward for better towels as the ones we had were threadbare, not deluxe fluffy ones as stated. Everything we paid extra for was standard in a HAL balcony. The website gives a lot of extra perks but in reality when you get on board the list has been cut by half. The weather on the cruise was perfect. We had calm seas, sunshine and warmth. The previous cruise had fog and rough weather. Captain Leo was amazed at the difference and said that in 11 cruises he's done to Antarctica it was the best he'd experienced. Weren't we lucky! We liked how the Captain interacted with the passengers and kept us fully up to date from the bridge. Alejandro the cruise director was amazing with his banter and had everyone laughing and enjoying themselves. He just doesn't stop and it's a pity his assistants don't have that natural ability. Cecelia Garland the naturalist on board was fantastic, so knowledgeable and able to communicate her love of nature to everyone. The other presenters knew their stuff but were so boring. The entertainment was great, provided by both guest artists and resident troupe. The band is incredible and can play anything asked of them. We never missed a show. Entertainment around the ship was generally good. Bingo was overpriced, boring and not enough games. The glassblowing also overpriced. Food on the ship was plentiful and of good quality. We ate in the dining room and had 4 specialty dinners. Tuscan Grille was the best with good steaks,soups, entrees and dessert. The restaurant is at the back of the ship where we watched whales and seals playing in the wake , icebergs going past and a beautiful sunset, it rounded off a perfect day in Antarctica. Qsine was also fun with good food. We went to Murano for Valentines Day and I had to send back the lamb it was so tough. The atmosphere there was like a men's smoking club and we couldn't wait to leave. The staff were snobbish and made you feel like you shouldn't complain about sub standard food. Not the romantic dinner we envisaged. The shore excursions were overpriced like all cruise ships. We found that if you just got off the ship the prices were less than half that the ship was charging or even less. The staff on the ship were fantastic. Nothing was a problem. They had happy smiling faces and most had been with the line for a number of years so that tells you that the company must be good to work for. We did a tour of the kitchens and everything was spotless. The staff worked as a team and there seemed to be no problem in preparing thousands of meals a day. Freshness is the key and anything out over 4 hours is thrown out (incinerated). We would happily do another cruise with Celebrity and we hear the Eclipse will be coming down to Australia after it's refit so we'll look for a cruise that suits us.. Read Less
Sail Date February 2020
This was on my husband's bucket list, not mine. I was afraid of the Drake Passage and didn't really want to go. It turned out to be the best adventure of our lives! We started in Santiago, Chile with the pre-cruise wine ... Read More
This was on my husband's bucket list, not mine. I was afraid of the Drake Passage and didn't really want to go. It turned out to be the best adventure of our lives! We started in Santiago, Chile with the pre-cruise wine tasting tour. This included a trip around Santiago the first day, three vineyards over the next two days, a lunch we cooked at one vineyard, and two gourmet dinners in Santiago. Matt was our guide for this part and he was absolutely wonderful, taking care of every detail and teaching all along the way. The Mandarin Oriental hotel was excellent with great views of the city. We flew to Ushuaia, Argentia the next day to begin the Antarctic part of expedition. The Drake Passage was quite rough and most passengers had some degree of seasickness, even with Scopolamine patches. Two days later, we crossed the Antarctic Circle and weather was amazing for the rest of our trip: blue skies, blue water, little wind, great birds, whales, seals and penguins. Each day there were at least two activities off the ship that included zodiac rides to see icebergs, seals and penguins up really close; hikes on glaciers, penguin rookeries, research stations and even an active Ukrainian research station. Amazingly, the ship would stop to see anything interesting and call all of to the observation decks. Our last day in Antarctic, the Orion turned around to follow a group of Orcas for over an hour. The entire naturalist staff was exceptional. Lectures were given between off ship activities, before and after dinner. They included photography, birds of the Antarctic, seals, whales, ozone research, geology, and penguins. Staff was always available to answer questions, share meals or cocktails with us, and help in anyway possible. We have even communicated with Josh after the trip, with whale questions. It was clear that these men and women had a passion for this work. The crew and staff and passengers were all involved, interested in everything and helpful in every way possible. I actually heard no complaint from anyone in the entire voyage. The return crossing of Drake Passage was almost smooth as glass - perfect ending to a perfect trip! Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
Antarctica has been my dream for years. I researched every type of tour operator before deciding on National Geographic Orion. It is a small luxury ship, where they have the ability to get everyone off the ship for multiple daily ... Read More
Antarctica has been my dream for years. I researched every type of tour operator before deciding on National Geographic Orion. It is a small luxury ship, where they have the ability to get everyone off the ship for multiple daily excursions. There were a dozen naturalists aboard who gave daily lectures on everything from photography to killer whales. Every detail was thought out and implemented to create a truly one of a kind experience for every guest. For example, they had a hot beverage Zodiac cruising to serve guests while out on the water. Hot drinks awaited you when returning aboard. With a staff of over 60 for 102 guests, you never lacked for anything. I was amazed at how the staff remembered everyone’s names and preferences. The food was delicious and there was a vegetarian menu in addition to any special requests. The forward lounge for viewing was equipped with drinks, snacks, puzzles, books, binoculars, etc. Our guides had us spotting humpback whales, penguins, seals, killer whales, etc. We journeyed below the Antarctic Circle and visited bases. We cruised and kayaked through incredible ice. We really could not have imagined a better experience. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
I have always wanted to visit Antarctica and chose National Geographic because of their outstanding reputation. Nat Geo exceeded my expectations and then some. I can't say enough about the total experience. Seeing Antarctica was ... Read More
I have always wanted to visit Antarctica and chose National Geographic because of their outstanding reputation. Nat Geo exceeded my expectations and then some. I can't say enough about the total experience. Seeing Antarctica was like being on another world. There are not enough superlatives to describe the journey. The icebergs were magnificent, the penguins adorable, the whales were incredible. The Nat Geo naturalists, experts, divers, scientists and photographers informed us, challenged us and transmitted their love of nature and the Antarctic. The ship and it's crew were outstanding. The food was good and drinks were included. Internet was spotty but that was to be expected given out location. Besides, part of the experience was to be totally in the moment without contact with the daily cares. It was a relief to avoid news for the entire trip. The Drake Passage was not as intimidating as advertised. Every passenger onboard would say that minor seasickness was totally worth it. I urge everyone to go and experience this magical place. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
We traveled with Lindblad/National Geographic last year to the Galapagos and Machu Picchu and it was excellent, so we decided to take the Antarctic cruise. This trip was fantastic for many reasons. The ship was small enough (148 ... Read More
We traveled with Lindblad/National Geographic last year to the Galapagos and Machu Picchu and it was excellent, so we decided to take the Antarctic cruise. This trip was fantastic for many reasons. The ship was small enough (148 passengers) so it felt like a community or like minded adventurers. It was well maintained with spacious cabins. The crew from the hotel staff to the waiters and kitchen staff were friendly and very attentive. The Captain was friendly and welcoming to spend time with the crew on the Bridge and willing to answer our questions. Dinning was good, not great, but we weren't going for the food. The chef kept the menu interesting by having a daily theme offering cuisines from around the world, Entertainment consisted primarily of lectures by presented by the expert naturalists and global climate expert. Also there were presentation by the on-board whale and underwater researchers. It was truly like having a university at sea. And all were very friendly, approachable and ready to answer our questions. Also the Nat. Geo. photographer was a great help with helping us learn how to make the most of our cameras and take great wildlife and landscape photos. The activities included, shore excursions to penguin colonies and Antarctic research stations, glacier hikes, kayaking, wildlife spotting. On shore staff and excursions that were included were also great. They are very good at all the travel transfers and making sure everything goes smoothly. To be honest, one of the things that made this trip so fantastic was that we had very good weather. Just a bit rough crossing the Drake Passage on the way to the Antarctic Peninsula, but all very smooth after that. We are now thinking about our next trip with Nat. Geo./Lindblad. Read Less
Sail Date January 2020
We picked the NatGeo Explorer/Lindblad cruise to go to Antarctica because we figured we would get more than just a tour of Antarctica and it truly went above and beyond our expectations! The price tag was more than worth it and we ... Read More
We picked the NatGeo Explorer/Lindblad cruise to go to Antarctica because we figured we would get more than just a tour of Antarctica and it truly went above and beyond our expectations! The price tag was more than worth it and we couldn't recommend this trip more - our only regret was not going for a room with a full window instead of a porthole. Our expedition leader (Lucho) did an amazing job planning the whole trip and we were lucky enough to cross the Antarctic Circle! When we weren't out on Zodiacs, hiking, kayaking, or polar plunging the naturalists (Doug, Andy, Javier, Eric) and guest speaker (Ted Scampos) kept us busy with interesting lectures about the Antarctic animals, climate change, glaciology, and their own work/research. We also got great photography tips from a NatGeo photography (Andy Coleman) and Lindblad photo instructor (Nathan). The service and food on the ship was enough to make us want to travel with Lindblad again. The entire ship crew (Randy, Gabriel, Rosalie, Renato, and everyone) was incredibly friendly and accomodating. The whole operation was very smooth and even the Drake's Passage was surprisingly calm on the way back. The captain and crew were experts at navigating through the sea ice, getting us close to the animals, and answering all our questions about the ship (there is an open bridge policy that we all really took advantage of). The only bad experience during our whole time on the National Geographic Explorer was when we crossed the Drake's Passage on the way to Antarctica and our seasickness medication wore off. Luckily the ship's doctor had some better medication available onboard! Read Less
Sail Date January 2020

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