Noting my belief that everyone has their own definition of “luxury”, the obvious question I must ask on this expedition is, “Does Atlas Ocean Voyages provide a luxury experience?” As you will read, the answer is Yes…with, for some, a little bit of No. Now, if the misses aren’t of concern to you…and they may not be…then, especially at the prices offered, Atlas Ocean Voyages is a fantastic value!
Atlas Ocean Voyages is a fairly inclusive product with an open bar, gratuities, emergency medical insurance, 1 GB of Wi-Fi, and, among other things, the use of Bushnell binoculars (provided in your stateroom or suite.) Room service is available with a limited menu, but suites may order from the dinner menu. Suites also receive one complimentary bag of laundry (wash and fold only) halfway through the expedition. There is a small spa with basic spa services, but no salon. The prices are very fair with, for example, a 90-minute deep tissue massage costing $175 (one was amazing and one was meh). Missing some cold weather gear or wanting a logo souvenir? They are available in the small, but well-stocked, shop.
A few days into my expedition I was moved from my lowest category Veranda Stateroom (Category B2) – which was quite comfortable though a bit tight for two people – to a Navigator Suite; the top suite on the ship. It has a separate bedroom, a living room with a large, comfortable sofa and occasional chair, more than ample closet space, and a larger bathroom with two sinks and a deep bathtub (the only category that has one), and a large balcony accessible from both the bedroom and living room. (It could use a bit more furniture on the balcony, but it may be that they exist but are stored for the polar expeditions.) At 465 feet it is not the largest top suite, but it does retain the true yacht-like character of this ship, which I love, and is very comfortable.
One serious annoyance is the internet service. Atlas includes 1 GB of data – which isn’t very much – for everyone. That is not near sufficient if you are working or wish to regularly communicate with the outside world. You can purchase packages up to 5 GB for $350, but I will probably wind-up spending $1,000 as I am working, writing articles, doing social media, and communicating with others. Making matters worse, you cannot switch between devices, so if you purchase 5 GBs on your iPhone, you need to purchase another package for your laptop. Technology today on most every cruise line allows for switching between devices and most have packages at far more reasonable prices (most not based on data, but time or voyage).
That said, as nice as my suite is, one of the real highlights of my Atlas Ocean Voyages experience is how just nice everyone is. There is a genuine desire to make you happy; not just to deliver what they or you think you want. While the staff is not the most experienced…they are improving every day (which is a joy to observe)…and they deliver “The Experience”; making you feel not only good, but also bringing out your “nice”. Fuggedaboudit!
The guest mix on this expedition is interesting and fairly diverse…and nice. There is virtually none of the sometimes tiring boasting of what someone does, etc. In fact, while I have engaged with far more folks than I normally do, I literally have no idea what any of them do. Refreshingly, it just isn’t a topic of conversation. Politics is not of any interest either. Now, where and how they live, what makes them happy, how much they all are enthralled with Antarctica, and such are pretty much always the topics.
Another highlight is, surprisingly, the quality and diversity of the cuisine onboard. Not getting “cruise ship flavor” is a seriously strong point of Atlas Ocean Voyages! With under 200 guests and a fairly heavy reliance on buffet-style service, I honestly wasn’t expecting that. And, fortunately, the chefs are not shy when it comes to garlic and spices. If you order Garlic Shrimp, you are going to get garlic. If there is supposed to be dill or chili, that is what you are going to get.
Just as an example, at lunch yesterday, I started with six oysters’ mignonette, and then at one chef’s station they were making gyros, and at the second chef’s station they were making chili dogs (review below), while duck confit was offered in the buffet…along with about two dozen other options plus a salad bar. There is a large station with about a dozen different nuts, seeds, dates, and figs (available at breakfast too). Pappardelle and spaghetti pasta are made fresh onboard. (Others are not.)
There is a diverse breakfast menu ranging from a full Mediterranean breakfast to the expected eggs, etc. There are always nice fruit selections as well as cheeses and more. There is a very nice selection of breads…too nice! One of the chef’s stations is set up for fresh juicing every morning. You can get served at your table off the menu of waffles, pancakes, eggs, and breakfast special. Poached eggs are done as ordered with no vinegar taste or weird texture. (The little things matter!)
Dinners are plated and, again, quite diverse; usually with a loosely followed theme of French, Brazilian, Portuguese, Arabic, etc. and with proper spicing! A Classic Fare menu with that which you would expect is available, but also Spaghetti with Mushroom & Truffle Sauce as well as my favorite: Pappardelle with Oxtail Stew & Braised Tomatoes. There are always fish and vegetarian selections.
I did the first half of my Hamburger & Hot Dog Test on the first evening and the Wagyu Hamburger was definitely an A+. It was now time for the Hot Dog Test…and it was an A. The hot dog was perfectly cooked, proportionate to the fresh bun, the chili was flavorful, and was topped with sauteed onions. The only reason it doesn’t receive an A+ is because it was not an all-beef hot dog. (It’s my scoring and my personal prejudice! LOL)
Before going further with the analysis I don’t want you to forget the most important aspect of what Atlas Ocean Voyages is supposed to deliver: Antarctica! Our next stop was Danco Island which had a path up a hill to see a couple of Gentoo penguin rookeries. When I landed I saw people struggling (all be it eventually successfully) to get up the small packed path in otherwise deep snow to get there. I decided not to get myself frustrated and photographed some penguins swimming; with Atlas then offering a few of us a zodiac cruise in the area. It was the perfect choice as it was drop-dead gorgeous!
The afternoon brought us to Fournier Island for a zodiac cruise. There were humpbacks feeding everywhere. Alone. In groups of three. Breaching (just quickly saw it). Slapping their fins (just a glimpse). Bubble feeding (missed that). Most with a bit of distance, but one right up close…just for an instant. (For me, it isn’t so much about photographing the tail flukes, but capturing the beauty and power of the whales.)
The next morning was one of my favorite places in Antarctica: Neko Harbour. With its glacier faces that you can see eye-to-eye, the peaceful bay, and Gentoo penguin rookeries, it captures so much of what Antarctica is close up and personal. I had just been there in February with virtually no snow by the shore and hundreds of Gentoos greeting us. But this time there was six feet of packed snow, so no greeting party and virtually no nests to speak of. While still beautiful, I think this will not be a very successful breeding season at Neko as the clock is ticking for the eggs to be laid in time for the chicks to develop before the Antarctica winter starts.
Our afternoon landing (and overnight camping for those that signed up; I did not) at Dorian Bay was cancelled due strong winds and ice building up on the shoreline. While some did venture out on a zodiac ride around 9:00 PM, I stayed onboard and took in the view that, with the dim light and great textures of the glaciers and ice, gave things an Ansell Adams photography sort of feel.
The expedition aspect of this journey also has some things needing to be discussed. The Expedition Team is charming, enthusiastic, and helpful. However, they are short-staffed (something that is, unfortunately, becoming more common between the explosion of expedition ships operating and many guides having moved on after Covid). That coupled with some language barriers with some of them, left a few things lost in translation both with guest questions and team answers. However, there has been very little discussion of the history of Antarctica (the word “Shackleton” hasn’t been uttered as far as I can tell). Also, because of handed, there is less socialization between the guests and team. The team is engaging, for sure, but when the team members are doing two or three jobs, there isn’t as much time for it…and they do need down time, as well.
That said, the guests are very happy. How could they not be? They are in Antarctica! But they don’t know what is possible or what is delivered on other lines. I do and I hope Atlas will deliver that level soon. Not everyone wants all the information, in fact, some want less information and just want to enjoy being in Antarctica. So, one needs to keep that in mind.
Safety is definitely a priority concern at Atlas Ocean Voyages, which is a good thing; especially being short-staffed. This has taken one curious turn that I think will also cause some to shun this otherwise wonderful product. I believe (speculate?) that due to some past issue, Atlas has a strict “No Alcohol” policy. If you have a mimosa at breakfast or a glass of wine at lunch, etc. you cannot take part in any zodiac rides or landing experiences for the entire day and evening. As virtually (literally?) every other line not only allows for responsible consumption of alcohol during the day, even having champagne toasts, hot toddies upon return to the ship, Bailey’s & hot chocolate, etc. they are off-limits on Atlas…unless you are done for the day.
While I most certainly agree that if someone is inebriated, they should not be able to participate, I find this rather draconian and not-science-based restriction rather offensive. In fact, when we were passing through the Lemaire Channel at 9:00 AM it was announced: “Celebrate by having a mimosa or a glass of champagne” and we were like, “Nope! I won’t be able to go out on the afternoon experience.”; noting that minimal alcohol would long be out of my system.
Curiously, Atlas asked what spirits you would like in your stateroom or suite. Mine is stocked with some beer (interestingly Budweiser Budvar “Original Czech Lager”), which is restocked daily, and a bottle of champagne (Henri Favre). But as Antarctica is more important to me than having a beer or glass of wine, I play by that rule.
However, when I asked if there were any non-alcoholic beers or wines during the World Cup match and then again later at dinner, the answer was “No”. Being required to drink water or Diet Coke at meals – especially such well-prepared cuisine – is just wrong.
Regardless, I did celebrate traveling through the Lemaire Channel. Each time I transit it (or have been blocked by too much ice) it is different. This time it was lightly snowing with low clouds. It was mystical and magical.
A Snowy Sheathbill, an ugly but friendly carrion-eating scavenger, hitched a ride on the World Traveller as we transited.
Our afternoon expedition was frustrated by both wind and ice pushed onto and around the landing sites. So, we did not go with Option A or Option B, but rather Option C – a zodiac expedition near some Adele penguins, Arctic terns, Kelp gulls, and some small, beautiful, icebergs.
With Windy.com showing some higher seas than we would like for our crossing back across the Drake, our last day was modified to a run up the coast to Half Moon Island, which is usually one of the first – not last – stops. However, as we have been dealing with an abnormal amount of snow further south resulting in less penguins and not many seals, and Half Moon has never disappointed…until we got there…almost. I was the first to land and was greeted by a Blue-Eyed Shag (or Antarctic Shag).
And that was about it. It was so disappointing to just see a few Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins, and a couple of skuas. With the excessive snow, it seems the penguins and seals that normally were there, just didn’t bother.
So, it was back to the zodiac with a nice couple I met. They said they had seen some seals from their balcony and pointed to them. Pablo, the Expedition Leader said, “Let’s go see them!” and we were off to see Weddell, Crabeater, and Elephant seas.
The excitement in their eyes seeing the seals was, again, why we come to Antarctica…and Atlas Ocean Voyages delivered!
Now to cross the Drake!
Give me a call, drop me an email, or send me a Facebook message
US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232