Expedition cruises are particularly fulfilling as passengers take home once-in-a-lifetime experiences, MICHAEL FERRANTE hears their adventures
For Vic Smith the destination was the key consideration — “After all, how many people can say that they’ve been to Antarctica,” he ponders.
Not only that but to tick the icy continent off the the bucket list would mean he’d been to all seven continents. So he and wife Maree travelled to Buenos Aires just after Christmas to board Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ Marco Polo for a 12-night cruise down to the Antarctic Peninsula, with a stop-off at the Falklands on the way.
The Marco Polo is a small “boutique” ship accommodating up to 800 passengers normally but only 400 to Antarctica — a more manageable number as access to the ice is by Zodiac and only 100 people are allowed to land at a time.
He said that after crossing the “disappointingly calm” Drake Passage they arrived at Deception Island; and were geared up to enjoy the experience of “swimming” in the Antarctic Ocean.
“In reality it was a heated spring where, if you were lucky, you could find the perfect spot to sit between scalding hot and freezing cold water,” Vic says.
In Port Lockroy, which boasts the most southerly operational post office in the world, there was an an unexpected surprise — the bleached bones of a whale carcass lying on the beach, testament to the unforgiving nature of this remote wilderness.
Maree and Vic agree the Antarctic cruise experience was “like falling in love for the first time”.
“I was awe-struck by the raw beauty, the wondrous views of the craggy edifices covered in snow and ice and the towering icebergs passing by the ship,” Maree says.
“The whale in the distance, the seals sunning themselves on the icebergs, the beautiful albatrosses and seabirds, the penguins the star attraction.
“It was beautifully hostile... a realisation of how fine a line there is between life and death and how it is on display right under your nose in that environment.
"The vulnerability of all living things on show, including us."
Trish and Peter Lakos’ “cruise of a lifetime” was an opportunity to see rugged wilderness areas the envy of any nature-loving person.
In their case this was South Georgia, an island in the southern Atlantic Ocean, and on to the Antarctic Peninsula.
They were aboard the luxurious Le Lyrial and travelling from Montevideo, Uruguay, in November, for their 15-night cruise.
Their first stop in South Georgia was Salisbury Plain, where they walked past a number of elephant seals — the females with their newborn pups and the bigger males — and saw about 250,000 breeding pairs of king penguins and their fluffy chicks on the ice.
“The views were breathtaking,” she says.
“The rest of our stops in South Georgia were equally rewarding, each with their own wildlife and landscapes to be explored.”
Trish says that though the Antarctic Peninsula exploration was hampered by ice floes and inclement weather, they still got many opportunities to see penguins, seals and a multitude of seabirds.
“We would highly recommend this cruise (Montevideo to Ushuaia, commonly regarded as the southernmost city in the world), to those who have the time, as it offers two vastly different areas each with their own diverse wildlife and landscapes,” Trish says.