Yes, I am heading back to Antarctica again.
Yes, it is my sixth expedition to Antarctica. (Heck, if I get invited, I am going! And, of course, it is my job. I am writing and, if appropriate, promoting.)
No, it never gets old…because Antarctica is always different and awe-inspiring.
Yes, I am boarding the Ocean Endeavour; a 1981 Polish-built, converted Russian ferry, that has been refit, renovated, and, to a degree, modernized, Polar Ice Class 1B true expedition ship. She is beloved by many expedition team members that have led polar expeditions on her…and I am curious as to why!
You can read her details here: Goldring Travel is Heading Antarctica Again – Ocean Endeavour – Part I
What is YOUR Luxury? (This Well Could Be Mine!)
So why am I so excited about next week’s expedition on the “old school” Ocean Endeavour as an invited guest of Australia-based polar specialist Chimu Adventures and its operations partner, Intrepid Travel, which has been at the fore of small group, environmentally and socially responsible, expedition and exotic travel, for over a quarter-century? It goes back to my youth.
As you may recall, in my youth I watched Jacques-Yves Cousteau on television religiously. That resulted in my obsession with marine biology and, by the age of 13, I literally overtook the third floor of my parents’ house with so many salt and fresh water aquariums that my father brought in an engineer to be sure the weight wouldn’t collapse the house’s structure. And that led to hundreds of hours embracing nature in salt marshes, wetlands, forests, and The Everglades, as well as on the seashore and offshore…almost always with a camera (hence my loyalty to Canon).
When I started college, I discovered my love of beer and women was easily satisfied, so let’s say my grades weren’t the best…and that led to a summer at the New Jersey Marine Science Consortium to catch up and it underscored my love of marine biology. College grades rose, I did my research on macrophage movements in yellow perch (requiring me to catch the perch from small boats in the spring and fall and to go ice-fishing in the winter)…and I was off following my passion.
That led to my job as a biological aid with the National Marine Fisheries Service; a part of the United States government agency NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration)…and a good bit of time bobbing around on the ocean in old, castaway, ships that were donated or picked up for cheap by the government. It was my heaven!
Although I loved my job, it wasn’t ever going to sustain my personally realistic lifestyle, so after a stint as an environmental lawyer (achieving newspaper headlines losing cases, as was the situation back when “the environment” wasn’t seen as being as important as it is today)…I pretty much abandoned my love as a source of income.
With a number of life changes, including pretty much exiting the legal world, moving to the mountains of Lake Tahoe, California, and the explosion of expedition travel, I have been blessed with so many opportunities to explore nature; especially the polar regions. But each of them to date has been split in their focus: Luxury Travel, on the one hand, and Expedition Travel, on the other. Heck, that is pretty much the sweet spot for most.
But what about pure Expedition Travel? “Old School”. Focus purely on why we are in Antarctica!
When Your Expedition is Over, You Will Speak Far Less of the Ship and Far More of Antarctica!
That is where Ocean Endeavor comes in! Her focus is on delivering a true consumer-focused expedition albeit with fairly basic accommodations. Things are definitely more “old school” with you picking your category of stateroom, but not your specific stateroom. And you have the option of sharing your stateroom to assist in reducing your costs. (There are a few single staterooms as well.) Your stateroom will be serviced, but you must request towels or linens to be changed on other than scheduled days. Buffets are the rule for breakfast and lunch, with dinners being plated; all served in one dining room.
Your onboard experience is enhanced with a heated saltwater pool, hot tub, small spa, his/her saunas, fitness center, and yoga classes. There are also lounges and plenty of outdoor decks to take in Antarctica. There is (expensive) Wi-Fi and a full bar (but no beverage packages).
However, the real focus is on the Expedition Team and Experience, offering paddling, snowshoeing, ice camping, and dedicated photography and kayaking programs, plus a Citizen Science program – which I will discuss when onboard. I am partaking of the photography program (and am wondering what I will learn and if the, er’ um, “focus” will interfere with a first-timer just taking in Antarctica.)
I appreciate that Chimu/Intrepid provide the bios for the very international and experienced Expedition Team leaders and primary team, which, again, I will discuss in more detail once onboard. But let’s just say, I am confident that a very rich experience will be had…including the history and politics of Antarctica plus an actual Citizen Science Coordinator. (The Expedition Team boasts an 8:1 ratio with the guests, and up to 22 zodiacs for the less than 200 guests, so a personal experience seems assured.)
Also scheduled to be onboard are three Australian lecturers/guests. Jennifer Bryne, a well-known television personality, her husband, Andrew Denton, a comedian and producer, and Stephen DuPont, an internationally award-winning journalist and photographer.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The Pre-and Post-Expedition Experience
As you know from my prior journeys, pre-embarkation communication can be a real challenge. It is frustrating and, in fact, disconcerting for some.
Chimu/Intrepid have done a truly commendable job of providing information for just about everything through a series of emails, downloadable documents, a regularly updated hub available online, and local representatives.
After you are provided a personal link, you input all of your pertinent information from flights to Covid-19 vaccination records to mandatory travel insurance, etc., Intrepid provides you with excellent pre-expedition documentation, both online and via detailed thirty-three page “Need to Know” pdf sent to you in advance.
This is combined with an Ocean Endeavour Expedition Hub. This is where you will – within 72 hours of the start of your expedition – provide your Covid test results and where there are links to a detailed explanation of your Antarctica experience and another downloadable pdf with the details of the ship. In other words, there is no wanting for information – and that is refreshing!
The Ocean Endeavour Expedition Hub is dynamic and your go-to for current information as it is regularly updated with any revised timings and information as the departure date draws near. Again, great communication!
Interestingly, and probably based upon the more independent nature of the Ocean Endeavor guest, your experience starts not in Buenos Aires, but Ushuaia, as it is anticipated some may wish to explore Ushuaia or Patagonia (or Buenos Aires) before the expedition. Hence, it is your responsibility to get to Ushuaia.
While this is marketed as an eleven-day expedition, Day One (January 11, 2023) is your check-in at the Las Hayas Ushuaia Resort for an overnight stay within a nature reserve. (This property is located a bit out of town but with shuttle and taxi service if desired…and maps with suggested sites are provided.) This is where a pre-embarkation health screening is undertaken. And there will be an Intrepid local representative onsite from 8:30 AM to 8:30 PM (another plus), along with an optional evening Icebreaker.
Day Two starts with an included breakfast, luggage pickup by 9:00 AM, an 11:00 AM check out, and a 2:30 PM shuttle to the ship; giving you an opportunity to explore the town or nature reserve in the morning. Note: For those truly independent or on an option pre-expedition tour, they can start their experience on Day Two and simply meet the shuttle outside the port. Onboard about 3:00 PM and after checking in and obtaining your stateroom assignment, it is time to truly start the expedition.
How am I putting these logistics into play?
Personally, while it was theoretically possible for me to fly from Tahoe to Buenos Aires, transfer over to the domestic airport, and make an afternoon flight to Ushuaia, I am a firm believer in two things: (1) Disaster-proofing travel; and, (2) Not Exhausting Oneself needlessly. So, I will be flying on January 9, 2023, spending a night in Buenos Aires, again at the Alvear Palace Hotel, with a late checkout before flying on January 11, 2023 into Ushuaia with a 3:35 PM flight and a 7:15 PM arrival (according to the fourth schedule change!). That way, if there is an issue with a flight, or my luggage is delayed, I have a day’s cushion in both Buenos Aires and Ushuaia…and, of course, I will hopefully be well rested.
Once I check into the hotel, I may wander into town, hopeful that some of my friends from other expedition ships are there. I am sure my Day Two will start with a saunter, eventually into town, a local lunch, and then the meet up at 3:00 PM at the port.
My return on January 21, 2023, will, however, be an effort at a straight shot home. While the ship is supposed to arrive into Ushuaia early in the morning, it is recommended that you not schedule your flight out until the afternoon…just in case. Not a problem for me (and my four schedule changes) as sitting in the Buenos Aires international airport waiting to check in isn’t fun. As of now, I have a 2:05 PM flight to Buenos Aires domestic airport, arriving at 5:25 PM with a private transfer to the international airport, arriving pretty much as check-in for my United flight to the US opens. (Let’s see how that goes, but I’m not nearly concerned about disasters or exhaustion when heading home!)
Yes, I am excited about this more expedition-focused expedition on Ocean Endeavour. It will be interesting!
And speaking of “interesting”, let me know if you are interested in a Chimu Adventures/Intrepid Travel expedition, polar or otherwise.
Give me a call, drop me an email, or send me a Facebook message
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