The first question most people ask me (other than if they can be my assistant! LOL) is, “Where is your favorite place in the world?“ My answer is, without any hesitation: Antarctica. It has a majesty, a calmness, a brutality, a symphony of colors, a starkness, amazing wildlife, smells (good and really bad) that capture you, and so much more. But, if there is one thing…just one thing that makes it “the” place for me, it is Antarctica’s ability to cause you to center yourself; to realize that in the Big Picture no one individual really is that important.
I have visited Antarctica and the Arctic on some of the most luxurious ships at sea. There has been free-flowing champagne, caviar, amazing cuisine, gorgeous suites, and more. But – and I say this to every cruise or expedition line salesperson that I speak with – “In the end the guest will not talk of the ship and all those amenities. They will talk about that penguin carrying a stone for no reason, that amazing sunset, that whale feeding right next to the zodiac.” And I then emphasize that I tell people “Put your camera down and pull up a rock. Just let Antarctica take you in. Your friends will be bored after you show them five photos because they won’t be able to relate to the emotional experience you had.”
Recently I was approached by Chimu Adventures, an Australian-based travel company that, among other things, operates an older ship, Ocean Endeavour. They invited me to experience Antarctica differently; and without the champagne. And this is where my motto comes into play, “What is Your Luxury?” Mine is Antarctica and if you offer me an expedition to Antarctica there is no answer other than “Yes!”
So I am heading to Antarctica on Ocean Endeavour’s Best of Antarctica Expedition on January 11, 2023, on an eleven-night journey.
Ocean Endeavour is a 199 passenger/124 crew ice class 1B expedition ship (can operate in ice, but isn’t an icebreaker) – which is chartered by other companies as well. It was built in Poland back in 1981 and has quite a history. Her latest refit was in 2014 when she was purchased by Chimu and her joint-venture partner. She has a cruising speed of 15 knots – which is quite good – and has a fair amount of amenities, including a heated pool, jacuzzi, spa, sauna with a view, gym, and a proper mudroom to stow your gear. It also has four lounges and one restaurant – but on-deck dining is a key element of the experience.
What Ocean Endeavour offers is a more active expedition with many options to really get out there…and to do it in the way that you, personally, want to. There are opportunities for:
Ocean Endeavor has excellent documentation on each of these activities which answers pretty much every question and does so in a very understandable way. I wish other operators provided information of this quality and in such a format. Take a look! Ocean Endeavour – Antarctica landing page
On this voyage, I am taking advantage of the Photography Program, operated in partnership with Sony Australia. This small group features extended time on land with the photography guides where you learn and work on techniques for different landscapes, weather, and wildlife. You also have use of a special Explorer Boat zodiac with all forward-facing seating for all 10 guests, twin engines, and an extended range. Hence, you can safely travel 3.0 nautical miles rather than 1.5 nm and quickly, at 30 knots vs. 12 kts, drastically expanding the wildlife photography opportunities. There will also be onboard lectures and workshops specifically for this small group, as well as access to an onboard digital photography lab.
As you know, I am passionate about my nature photography and am excited to learn more and improve my techniques. But having been to Antarctica four times before I will be interested to see how (or if) this focus on photography (sorry about that!) positively or negatively impacts the embracing of this incredible place by those who are having their first experience. Antarctica is just too big and sensory-dense only to observe it through a lens.
While it isn’t the most environmentally sophisticated ship, Ocean Endeavour does rely upon generous carbon offsets, a proactive goal of total elimination of plastics, and returning all waste to land (which is pretty much required). In addition, it is focused on utilizing only sustainable sources for its food following the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guidelines to ensure all seafood is caught or farmed in a sustainable manner. I will be delving into this further while onboard.
The experience onboard is definitely casual and relaxed. The accommodations are functional and simple, with most having portholes rather than windows. Your balcony is being on deck…which is where I usually find myself anyway. (If you recall, although I truly love Scenic Eclipse I was critical of the lack of open deck space.) There are also large windows for viewing from the various lounges and the dining room…all of which have deck access. Dining for breakfast and lunch are buffet and dinner is served ala carte either in the Polaris Dining Room or, on occasion, on deck in one open-seating. Spirits, beer, and wine are charged to your onboard account. Laundry service is also available at a cost. No self-service laundry facilities are available.
Curiously the internet is apparently charged by the megabit rather than time. That is very “old school” though I have the impression that the intended passengers are not focused on having connectivity while on expedition. For me, this might be a challenge and, most definitely an added expense; possibly a significant one!
Having been so focused on the bougie luxury elements of the other expeditions ships I have been on…and will be on…this expedition, to my mind, is bringing back some of the romance of my earlier days as a biologist and poor law student wandering about in the swamps of New Jersey, the Florida Everglades, and bobbing around the ocean on small boats.
You can sail on my expedition in a Twin Porthole stateroom for $12,190 per person. However, I will be staying in a Category 6 Comfort Twin for $14,290 per person. Now, while this does not include domestic air (Buenos Aires – Ushuaia roundtrip) which cost me only $371.60 as some other expedition companies include, or the pretty much required overnight stay in Buenos Aires. (I am staying at Alvear Palace again, but using my Amex Platinum benefit it will only cost me $380 including breakfast and an $80 Food & Beverage Credit with a late checkout.) It does include a pre-expedition overnight in Ushuaia and transfers. So for two people the total cost of my trip – other than international airfare, but including estimated onboard charges for beverages, etc. – would be less than $30,000.
I am not including my expenses diving into the culinary world of Buenos Aires; something that in and of itself is very special. Did you happen to read the Travel & Leisure Magazine article quoting me? https://www.travelandleisure.com/food-drink/under-the-radar-dining-destinations
The ship has 22 zodiacs for its 199 passengers and an 8:1 crew-to-passenger ratio. This tells you where the focus is…and it is on the expedition experience. The parka and boots are on loan, complementary. This is the one expedition company that doesn’t give you a parka to keep, but rather only the insulated inner jacket. I have to say that I see more people not wanting to keep complimentary parkas than do, so I don’t know that this is really much of an issue.
There are ten categories of staterooms ranging from single, double, and triple interior (sharing is an option), to a variety of single and twin staterooms to two suites. My stateroom is a Category 6 Twin Comfort Stateroom. It has a separate living room and bedroom with two twin beds. Each room has its own porthole (these may be closed during the crossing of the Drake Passage) plus there is a flat-screen TV, a refrigerator, and a bathroom with shower. Not fancy, but providing everything needed plus the nicety of my workspace not being in my bedroom.
I am looking forward to some kayaking, hiking, and photography time…as well as just “taking it in” time, but have no desire to camp out overnight. Besides living in Lake Tahoe, I have plenty of snow and cold (and have endured cold nights camping). Also, as with the polar plunge, I believe the coddled overnight camping experience can give some a false sense of being able to dominate or survive Antarctica, rather than to respect and embrace it. Then again, I shall wait and see if those who engage in it come back more in awe of this incredible place or, possibly, full of bravado.
One thing I learned on my last journey with flights out of Ushuaia is not to return back to Buenos Aires too early as you will be stuck in “no man’s land” with not enough time to do anything (and you will have your luggage as you arrive into the domestic airport and depart out of the international one but it will be far too early to check-in), while also not enough time to really use a day room. Chimu recommends you not schedule a departure before noon in case the ship is delayed due to seas or weather, so I booked a 1:35 PM one-stop (same aircraft) flight that gets into BA at 6:50 PM. While that makes what should be a 3.5-hour journey a 5-hour one, it sets me up to take a taxi right to the international airport and walk up to the check-in counter for my 10:05 PM flight back to the United States. Sitting on a plane for an extra two hours never sounded so good. LOL
But it will be a long day, so overnighting in Buenos Aires is a good option. I, however, need to get back to the United States to celebrate my mother’s 90th Birthday in New York City and then head to the Ensemble Travel Group’s Conference in Miami, Florida before I head back to Lake Tahoe.
I am very much looking forward to this expedition to Antarctica! I am excited about the casualness, the special photography program and, well, being embraced by this amazing place yet another time. It is absolutely “My Luxury!”