Often when in a conversation about travel, discussing where people have visited or desire to go the location that elicits emotion is a single word – “Antarctica.”
The seventh continent of planet Earth, comparable in size to the United States with a wintertime population of around 1,000, Antarctica is surrounded by the Southern Ocean and typically accessed by sea from the tip of South America across the renowned Drake Passage. It is both simultaneously awe-inspiring and off-putting to a number of seasoned travelers.
Unlike the Arctic Circle in the North, which can be accessed by air directly, Antarctica is treaty regulated by international law and is kept as pristine as possible to enable scientific research on the ecosystem and climate conditions affecting all of us. The fact that the South Pole was discovered barely a century ago adds to the mystery of the continent of wind, ice and snow.
The Drake Passage – typically a one- to two-day sea crossing from South America – is often referred to as the “Drake Shake” or the “Drake Lake,” referring to how unpredictable ocean conditions can be leading to either a serene passage or a fearsome two days hanging on as the ship’s crew guide the ship safely through. This comes after traveling from North America or Europe half-way around the globe to South America and then connecting to another flight to get to the southern tip of the continent – all this before crossing the passage.
Silversea thought about this and how valuable time can be for its passengers and figured out how to marry their latest expedition ship, the all-new, purpose-built Silver Endeavour, with an Antarctic bridge from South America into King George Island – about a half-day’s sailing from the Antarctic Peninsula – the most accessible region of the continent in spring and summer. This combination requires a couple of days traveling, and flying conditions (particularly visibility) play a big role in the timing of the flights across the Antarctic air bridge.
Once landed at King George Island wearing the expedition gear supplied by Silverseas on the flight, you have to be guided into a zodiac boat on the beach and journey to the ship. Just arriving at the Silver Endeavour is an expedition in itself and a presage of the excitement to follow.
Even travelers familiar with cruise travel may well be thinking, “What is an Expedition Cruise?” or “What makes Antarctica different than Alaska or the Arctic?” These are fair questions, and having experienced others, I would suggest that Antarctica is truly a unique experience.
Expedition cruise vessels are typically highly capable for the task and more compact than a regular cruise ship in many cases. Unlike a cruise to the Mediterranean or Caribbean where the itinerary involves a port visit every day, either docked alongside or a tender ride away, the expedition cruise is all about flexibility. Nature determines the schedule, and the expedition ship has a highly experienced team who decide each day where is safe to land, and then reconnoiter the route for an on-land hike.
Antarctica is fantastic. What distinguishes it perhaps is not just how wild and remote it feels –there is absolutely no sound or smell other than the wind and occasionally the penguins, for example. You feel like you are a visitor to another world. The rules for visitors also add to the feeling of being from another planet – maintaining distance from any wildlife, no sitting down or disturbing the natural environment. There are no docks, paved roads, clear pathways or basically anything other than nature and the wildlife.
Varieties of penguins could well be the highlight of anyone’s visit – the Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adele are amazing to watch, providing endless entertainment. Whales swimming, glaciers calving into the sea, avalanches in the mountain ranges above – it feels remote, wild, primal, God’s Country – with the benefit of a cordon bleu meal, stiff cocktail, hot shower and clean sheets in the evening – something we imagine that the great explorers dreamt of more than once.
Whilst the ship is compact, do not think for one moment it is not luxurious. Staterooms are well appointed and extremely comfortable, and dining options cover the spectrum with the high-end option being the La Dame restaurant. The Otium spa offers a range of treatments to relax after a day’s expedition ashore. There is even a gift shop containing useful items of clothing and expedition necessities, and even the only bear you will find on this continent.
For those who need to keep in touch with home, wireless internet connectivity is very good, though it can be affected locally from time-to-time, which given the location at the bottom of the world and satellite positioning is understandable.
The focal point of the ship’s entertainment is the nightly briefing where the expedition team provides a brief on the day and what lies potentially ahead, as well as lectures from experts in the fields of oceanography, ornithology and history to contextualize what you have seen and will see in the coming days.
Although the itineraries can seem short, they offer a window into a unique continent and a genuine once-in-a-lifetime travel experience – but who knows, maybe it will grant you the taste for more…
For more details, please visit www.silversea.com